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SU Football: Identifying the Identity

Six games into 2013 and Syracuse is what we all thought it would be: Ground and Pound. It just took some time to get here.

Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

"Wow, that's a great race car, Daddy!"

A great compliment given to me by my wife. The only problem? I was drawing my son, who was sitting on my lap at the time, a train complete with tracks and mountains in the distance! I was even doing my best Bob Ross impression.

Great race car?

How could anyone not see that this masterpiece was obviously a train trekking its way through the countryside? I was shocked. Actually, it reminded me of exactly how I felt after last week's column received...less than a favorable response. The readers saw something I didn't. I'm a pessimist? I need to be "called out"?

OK, so either my writing is as bad as my artistry, or...OR...the collective Syracuse fan base was a little sensitive about this Orange football team, about the potential of another long season. I mean, at 2-3 and coming off a brutal blowout loss to the Tigers, the line between six wins and three became a little blurry. Is it a train or a race car?

So, while I thought I was just creatively pointing out how the season could have gone sour quickly, some of the readers here thought I was almost rooting against the Orange -- which couldn't be further from the truth, given my decades of loyal masochism.

But a funny thing happened Saturday: Syracuse picked a lane. We all thought the key to success for Scott Shafer's team would come through Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley. But five games into the season, Syracuse hadn't really established the ground and pound game plan. There had been some good games, against Seahawks and Green Waves, but nothing like what we witnessed in Raleigh.

As a team, Syracuse averaged 9.1 yards per carry. Gulley went for 132 yards on just nine carries, Smith a bruising 147 with an average of 7.4 per rush! Even Terrel Hunt, who struggled mightily for the second straight game, was six yards short of the century mark on the ground. A credit to all three, and a bigger credit to the offensive line -- which created huge holes all afternoon.

Now, N.C. State is the same N.C. State that lost to Wake Freakin' Forest. In other words, the Wolfpack isn't a group destined for the BCS. But heading into the game, I really hadn't seen much to make me think Syracuse was the type of team that could go on the road, in the conference no less, and win. Not with the issues in the secondary, Hunt's inexperience, and the lack of a true identity.

But Saturday, Syracuse hit its blinker and merged into the "Rush Lane."

We're going to give it to Smith to pound it in your face. Then we're going to hand it to Tyson-Gulley to make you miss. And, be it planned or improvised, Hunt will be ready to run.

Sure that's not exactly the winning recipe for games against Clemson or Florida State, but for teams like N.C. State and Georgia Tech and Wake Forest? Or Boston College and Pittsburgh? Absolutely the Rush Lane can lead to wins! At least against fairly mundane ACC competition, just ask Paul Johnson.

Really, this is just Syracuse being Scott Shafer:

"I challenged them to come down here and bring some of the North to the South and play physical hard-nosed football," Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. "We talked about we thought we could run the ball on a good rush defense."

What's more #Hardnosed than the Bigs upfront bowling over defenders? North football? Who knew there was such a thing!

Last week I didn't think Syracuse could win a game like Saturday. Now? I'm all-in that Syracuse, driving in the Rush Lane, can get to that all-important six win mark. Hell, imagine if the Orange didn't commit all those dumb penalties against N.C. State? eight for 72 yards! No way that game would have been tied in the fourth quarter had Syracuse played smarter football. Smith, Tyson-Gulley, and Hunt would have ran the Wolfpack into the ground much earlier.

Again, I'm not foolish enough to think SU will run the table here, especially with Hunt only throwing for 74 yards, but I'm now viewing the upcoming stretch of games a little differently:

  • @ Georgia Tech
  • Wake Forest
  • @ Maryland
  • @ Florida State

Syracuse isn't beating FSU, but it could pound the ground all the way to wins over the Yellow Jackets (who were eaten alive by BYU), Wake Forest (which is still Wake Forest), and the Terps. I didn't think that last week, which is why I started to wonder if 2013 was a lost cause. Which is why a lot of the readers saw me as Debbie Downer rather than...Rick Reality (?).

I guess I saw something a lot of other people didn't see, or simply didn't want to see. That doesn't mean I was right or wrong. Not that it even matters much anymore. Syracuse won by picking the Rush Lane. Syracuse can win a lot more, so long as it stays in the right lane. There's no need for interpretation there.