Winning down in College Park was great, especially given how dominant that victory was, and how angry Terps fans appeared to be with us while there. Now just one win away from a bowl bid, things seem a bit more positive around here... or would if we weren't entering into a buzzsaw on Saturday.
As is and will be the norm all season, we've opened the floor to the TNIAAM football wing to discuss this week's burning questions about Syracuse on- and off-the-field, the ACC and more. Join us below...
Has Syracuse's defense turned a corner, or just played bad offenses these past two weeks?
The Invisible Swordsman: Yes, on both counts. Syracuse's D looked in shambles during the Georgia Tech game, and I could not have imagined them keeping their opponents out of the end zone two straight games. We have absolutely bullied two of our last three opponents, and while FSU has the ability to counter our strengths and expose us, its becoming clear that many ACC offenses have no answer to our aggressiveness. It has been as pleasing to watch our D as it has been painful to watch our O!
Matt McClusky: At the very least the defense has shown progress, opponents, and their debilitating injuries, be damned. Syracuse made Georgia Tech look like some type of horrifying mutation of Clemson meets Florida State. But since things have smoothed out and I think, 10 games into the season, the coaching staff has to be pleased with the on field results.
Dan Lyons: Both, I think. Wake and Maryland aren't exactly Baylor and Oregon, but they've fared far better against the rest of the non-elite portion of the ACC schedule than they did against Syracuse. Obviously injuries play a role, but you can't just blame everything on injuries. I think the Georgia Tech embarrassment might have paid some dividends as a wake-up call for the Orange defense, and the team has played with more cohesion and purpose since that game. It's easy to lay it all at the feet of struggling Wake Forest (who wasn't struggling entering the Syracuse game) and Maryland teams, but there has to be a reason that each team gained fewer yards and scored three combined points while Tulane was able to at least put up 330 yards and 17 points against this same Syracuse unit.
John Cassillo: The bad offenses are definitely a factor. Of the last two teams SU has lined up against (Wake and Maryland), just one starting wide receiver has played more than a series or two. So while I do appreciate the aggression rushing the passer and overall ball-hawking this team's been doing, it all has to be put in perspective. This defense has played incredibly well of late, but they've had some help.
Why were we throwing the ball in the fourth quarter against Maryland? Or better: downfield at all?
TIS: Sometimes, I think George McDonald over thinks his strategy to the point that he winds up like Vizzini in "The Princess Bride". It's like McDonald's inner monologue is saying: "Maryland, you've beaten my running game, which means you're exceptionally strong, so you could've put in a nickel package, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the run. But, you've also bested my passing game, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have prepared for the run, so I can clearly not choose pass"... and so on... all thinking that the Maryland defense will fall for one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia!"
MM: My best guess is that Syracuse was trying to complete a down field pass and the time in the game simply didn't matter. Terrel Hunt threw for a total of 140 yards. The leading receiver for the Orange on Saturday accumulated 42 yards. Syracuse is at its best when it is running, running, and running, but to at least have a chance against some of the Big Boys, a passing game HAS TO DEVELOP. And game practice is game practice.
DL: I don't mind throwing downfield a bit so that teams have to at least respect the notion of it. We've even hit a handful of decent passes this year (see: Jarrod West's circus SportsCenter-worthy catch). However, the playcalling at the end of the game was asinine. Luckily, I thought McDonald called his best power conference game of the year as a whole, and Syracuse had the game all but locked up, so it didn't result in anything disastrous, but I have no idea what the rationale for those late passing plays was.
JC: I was apoplectic at this decision, because in all honesty, it could have really cost us. On two separate drives, McDonald ordered up dangerous passes over the middle when all we had to do was run the ball and run out the clock. Why? The downfield passing was effective in the first half, but then we went full-bore on bubble screens and between-the-tackles runs. When you're up 17 late, you don't need to do anything but that to close it out.
Where does this FSU team rank in terms of "best teams Syracuse has ever faced?"
TIS: I don't know about the best ever, but the 'Noles appear to be the best team we have played since the Miami teams of the 80s/90s. They are playing as well as anyone I have seen this year, and honestly appear to be the only National Title threat to Alabama.
MM: Ever faced? Wow. Hard to believe we're answering this question, but I guess it's probably fitting given how good Florida State has looked this season. We've all seen Syracuse get hammered by the national champion contending Miami Hurricanes of years passed (Of course, that '91 game...I mean...Chris Gedney's catch two yards shy of the endzone will forever haunt me). Yet, looking at recent years, I'd say FSU is at the top of the list. Which, when you think about it, is why everyone was excited for Syracuse to join the ACC. The Big East had some decent teams, but the ACC is supposed to be at another level. Florida State, wherever it ranks on the all-time opponents list, is on another level.
DL: It's probably way too early to call, considering how stacked some of those Big East Miami teams were, but I don't think it's hard to assume it's the best team that Syracuse has played since the 'Canes moved to the ACC unless I'm missing someone huge. I'm probably too young to really make a strong claim here.
JC: I remember the Miami teams of the late 90s and early 00s well enough, so it's tough to necessarily say this Florida State team's the "best." But if FSU runs the table and manages to beat Alabama in the National Championship Game, perhaps they are. These things are usually easier to sort out in hindsight.
Is there a positive we can take out of this trip to Tallahassee?
TIS: It will be 30 degrees warmer?
MM: Well, it snowed Tuesday up here. We know it won't snow down there on Saturday.
DL: If Syracuse at least looks like it plays in the same division of football for a bit, and no one gets hurt, I think the road trip will have gone about as well as we can reasonably expect. I'd be content with covering that 38.5 point spread, honestly.
JC: Florida recruits know we go to Florida? If FSU wins it all, we can say we faced them? I don't know, but it's better than a week 12 matchup with a 4-5 SUNJ team. So thanks, ACC.
What do the Orange have to do to beat
Florida State ...Nevermind?
TIS: Put on shorts and play a 2-3 zone.
MM: Hope for freak weather to cancel the game, with no possibility of rescheduling it?
DL: Embrace the underdog role, run the ball with Jerome Smith indiscriminately, try to win the time of possession battle, play as aggressively as possible on defense, and hope for some seriously fluky stuff to happen.
JC: Run the ball and hope for insanity. If the Orange commit to the run, it'll at least minimize the amount of points Florida State can point on the board. So for the sake of appearances, SU should probably just go ahead and do that.
Florida State's going to beat Syracuse. What will be the biggest cause(s) of this?
TIS: I hate to say this, I really do, but FSU is simply bigger, stronger, faster, better coached, and are playing at home. Miracles do happen in sports, but when you take all of these things together, it would take just that for us to walk out of Saturday's game with a win.
MM: Simple: Florida State has more. More talent, more skill, more bodies to run at the opponent. More, more more...of everything. FSU isn't just good, it's elite. Syracuse is no where near elite. (And that's okay.)
DL: Talent across the board. There's no real shame in getting blown out by a team that beat Miami by 27 and Clemson at Clemson by 37, and will probably do unspeakable things to Florida in a few weeks. I think this Florida State team is absolutely a national championship caliber team, and has a very good chance to beat Alabama in January. You can point to individual players like Jameis Winston, but ultimately, Florida State's advantage over conservatively 120 other teams in the country is just raw talent across the board. A freak talent at quarterback like Jameis is just a huge cherry on top.
JC: Speed, depth, coaching, talent... there are other things to list as well. The Seminoles are one of the best teams in the country and are set up for success long term as well. And it's because they're simply better than we are. They'll make that clear on the field on Saturday, and will do so again for the next few years too.