On Saturday, I made the hour-and-a-half journey from Ithaca, NY to Syracuse to take-in the Syracuse Orange football Spring Game with my lovely wife -- she agreed to go after I made a promise we'd stop at the Irish restaurant Kitty Hoynes.
Here are my first-person takeaways from the first Spring Game under head coach Scott Shafer, which featured the Orange Team defeating the Blue Team, 27-10.
1. Terrel Hunt is QB No. 1, for now.
By now, you have probably read about how impressive the junior quarterback was, as he completed 19 of 29 passes for 209 yards a two touchdowns.
Behind the stats, which is basically the only info you can judge Hunt by if you didn't attend Saturday, was a poised and confident leader that will enter Summer Camp as the No. 1 guy trying to hold off Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen.
Hunt, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, not only helped the No. 1 offense make big plays -- he hit wide receiver Jarrod West on a nice 49-yard touchdown pass-and-catch to give the Orange Team an early 7-0 lead -- but he also made good decisions under pressure.
Though, scrimmage rules prevented defensive players from touching the guy in the orange jersey -- a tap to any part of the body led to quarterbacks being ruled down -- defenders were still able to put Hunt and other QBs in hurried situations. Time in and time out, Hunt made the best throws -- some check-downs and some hot reads that were on the money -- and, more importantly, didn't turn the ball over.
Now, Hunt wasn't perfect. In the second half (or late in the first half, my memory isn't that great), he was hurried and tossed a pass to West that was a bit too late and inside. If cornerback Julian Whigham, who made a good play on the ball and deflected the pass, was a better defensive back it would have been picked and taken 60-plus yards for a touchdown.
Yet, the thing that impressed me most about Hunt's performance was when he "missed" he was on target (a few quick-hits slipped through receivers hands or were in a place where only the intended target could catch it) and he seemed to be the only quarterback in command of the offense.
If Syracuse had, or has to, enter the season with Hunt as quarterback, I'd be completely fine with it. I understand that the Spring Game is the Spring Game, but I've seen enough football and practices to see a No. 1 QB in Hunt.
That makes me pretty excited.
2. Solid wide receivers are still wearing orange
You know your football program is headed in the right direction when it can lose a starting quarterback and its top two wide outs, and seemingly not lose any offensive firepower.
West (6-2, 203) seemingly caught everything Hunt tossed his way and it only took a few moments to realize he will be a QBs top target -- and you feel completely OK with that. West has good speed and can adjust to nearly any throw -- he went up for a few catches, down for a few and made quick adjustments on missed throws that he snagged.
The only critique I had of West is he seemed to have given up on a few deep balls from Hunt that he could have tracked down. Not sure if it was him not knowing the ball was in the air or if he thought the ball was too far out of his reach. Either way, he could of had a few more big plays if he found the ball faster.
Flemming (6-3, 204) didn't have a lot of plays, but he stands out as a physical threat to any defensive back. He is tall and has great size that complements West well.
Clark (5-11, 163) is a great fit for the slot and he showed it Saturday. A lot of screen passes came his way and he almost busted a few for a HUGE plays. He is by far the quickest of the three wide receivers and seems to find holes in the defense well.
3. A lot of depth in the backfield
This is stating the obvious, but holy crap does Syracuse's backfield have a lot of depth.
Despite not having Prince-Tyson Gulley, who was second on the team in rushing yards, the Orange running back core featured a quicker and more powerful Jerome Smith, last year's leading rusher, the newly added George Morris III, and a little bit of Adonis Ameen-Moore and Devante McFarlane, who was also impressive.
Too bad the NCAA doesn't allow any trades because most of these guys could probably start on a lot of other teams in the nation.
4. Familiar names are still on defense
By the second half, I realized I was paying too much attention to the offense and the conversation surrounding the attendance (I'll get to this). So, I went through the roster, looked-up some numbers and saw a lot of familiar names, which shouldn't have surprised me but did.
The roster featured defensive backs: Brandon Reddish, Keon Lyn, Ri'Shard Anderson, Jeremi Wilkes, Durell Eskridge and Ritchy Desir. Sophomore Wayne Morgan, who got a lot of playing time as a freshman, show cased his skills and a new position, safety.
Couple other defensive notes featured:
- The size of Iowa transfer, sophomore DT John Raymon, who's 6-5, 320 pounds. The guy is freakin' massive.
- Whigham made a few pass break-ups, which was nice to see. He was also picked on and taken advantage of a lot.
- Both transfers, linebacker Luke Arciniega and Josh Kirkland, seemed to move well. They should play a bunch and add depth.
5. The attendance was surprisingly good.
Whatever your unrealistic expectations are of Syracuse's Spring Game attendance -- especially when you complain about it sitting at a place other than the Carrier Dome -- in my opinion the crowd was solid.
Sure, it wasn't 20,000 like offensive coordinator George McDonald wanted or what Shafer wants to have in the future -- good luck with that -- but fans WERE there. More importantly, those fans wanted to be there even after the program lost possibly a Top-10 quarterback, a pair of future NFL wide receivers, two of its best offensive linemen, maybe, its best athlete and nearly all of its coaching staff, including its head coach.
For what I saw in post-game wrap-ups there was nearly 4,000 #Hardnosed fans at the Dome and, with this being the third straight year I've attended the Spring Game, it was by far the best crowd I've witnessed.
And, it was by far the most exciting Spring Game I've attended. After the last few seasons that featured no offensive movement or points, this year featured a lot of flow, big plays and a few big hits.
Overall, I got out of the Spring Game what I wanted to:
- Check out Terrel Hunt for the first time -- I liked what I saw.
- Big plays and SCORING! THERE WAS SCORING!!
- An event that got me excited about Summer Camp and the 2013 season.
Done, done and done.
So please, unless you attended the Spring Game, shut up about the overall attendance and what it shows about the state of the program; because if you judge a Northeast football program by the attendance at a glorified scrimmage you're an idiot.
P.S., the experience and food at Kitty Hoynes was amazing. I ordered the Irish meat loaf (my favorite meal) and was not at all disappointed, while my wife ordered a steak sandwich (she didn't even eat steak) and loved it. We will be back to Kitty Hoynes that's for sure.