The best, ugliest and scariest Halloween costume this past week was the first half offensive performance of the Syracuse Orange and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. In Halloween terms, it was so good it made my heart rate and blood pressure rise, and I know a screamed at it.
But, if you think about it, it just wasn't the holiday that prompted this scary style of football, most Syracuse football games have gone like Saturday's did -- not a lot of pretty and a bunch of ugly. However, in half of their showdowns the Orange have come out on top and after a 13-0 victory at the Carrier Dome they are two wins away from qualifying for a postseason bowl.
To accomplish the feat of earning a bowl berth SU will need to continue to do what they do best -- play hard-nosed football, which features running the ball with Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, playing smart (no dumb penalties and turnovers) and kicking the crap out of the opposing offense with its physical defense (something Syracuse is getting a reputation of doing).
Wake Forest saw a near perfect execution of this style for nine minutes on Saturday, as Syracuse marched down the field on its first possession of the second half by RUNNING THE FOOTBALL, then, forced a Wake Forest turnover with a big play and capitalized a few plays later with another touchdown.
From there, the game was all but over because Wake Forest's best player, wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who is 40-percent of the Deacons offense, was knocked out of the game thanks to a few hard licks from SU's defense.
Yet, for much of the game Saturday the Orange played only 2/3 of their brand of hard-nosed football, as they decided airing it out (Syracuse threw 19 times and ran 15 times in the first half) against Wake Forest, which relies on airing it out too, was the best game plan and zero points were scored in the game's first 30 minutes.
(The scoreless first half also featured both teams combining to go 4-for-19 on third downs, 14 punts and 11 penalties for 90 yards. Again, it was SCARY.)
Whatever happened at halftime -- maybe head coach Scott Shafer gave an evil glare in the direction of offensive coordinator George McDonald -- Syracuse decided to run the ball. Nine of the Orange's first 10 plays of their first possession of the second half were runs, nearly matching the total of the first half, and they marched down the field with impressive ease.
It took 14 plays to march 75 yards, 39 yards came on the ground, to score the game's first touchdown and from there the Orange were in cruise control because Wake Forest couldn't do anything on offense without its top target. (The Deacons ended the game with zero red zone chances. I don't care who you play, that's impressive.)
However, after everything was said and done and I breathed a sigh of relief that the Orange moved closer to their postseason goal, I couldn't help but wonder: why did it take so long for Shafer and company to do what they do best -- run the ball?
At this point in the season, the most frustrating aspect of this team isn't it lack of talent at wide receiver, or the quarterback troubles, or the dumb penalties and turnovers, its Syracuse's lack of awareness of who they are, though, it can be argued, the Orange coaches KNOW EXACTLY WHO THEY ARE!
Shafer says it all the time in his lingo: This team is going to work its butt off; it is going to punch you in the mouth; it is going to playing "northern" style football; THE HAY IS NEVER IN THE BARN!
Yet, in games like Saturday, it took SU 30 minutes to be themselves (it was like the morale of a Boy Meets World episode). Luckily, Wake Forest continued to be who they are and tossed the ball around, even though it didn't have its best player to throw to, and the offense never got a chance to run away from Syracuse; which if it did get down early would have needed to throw the ball with Terrel Hunt or had Drew Allen take some snaps.
The Orange fan base is eight games into a season and it knows what it team can and cannot do. Because of this, we can assume so do the coaches. However, it still ends up happening that SU, at times, passes more than it runs and gets itself into trouble.
Hopefully, Saturday's victory is a sign that the Orange will stick to their bread and butter -- running, physical defense and limiting mistakes. If they do that, I can almost guarantee a bowl appearance (because teams like Maryland, Pitt and Boston College can be beaten with hard-nosed football).
If they don't, well, the Orange will end up more like the Demon Deacons and less like Corey Matthews, who ended up marrying Topanga.