We're back at .500! But what does that really mean? Last week's game had plenty of encouraging elements, but just as many discouraging ones. With just four games remaining, I'd love to see Syracuse figure this thing out sooner rather than later. I'm sure you would, too.
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...
Real talk: Would we have beaten Wake Forest had Michael Campanaro not gotten injured?
The Invisible Swordsman: I think so. Losing Campanaro was a big blow to Wake's offense, and they looked completely out of sorts in his absence. Regardless, our D was playing with an enormous chip on their shoulders and were so effective at pressuring Tanner Price, I don't think Campanaro's absence would have been worth more than 13 points.
Matt McClusky: I doubt it. Campanaro is a receiver who would have easily surpassed 1,000 yards receiving and was well on his way to breaking a number of Wake Forest receiving records. Not to mention he accounted for 40 percent of the Deacons offense! I think Syracuse could have still won the game had Campanaro not broken his collar bone, but I think he probably, at the very least, helps Wake get on the board in the first half -- which would have dramatically altered the coarse of the game.
Dan Lyons: I like to think so. Campanaro is a great player, and that was a big break for the Orange, but with the way Tanner Price was throwing bounce passes to all of his receivers across the field, I don't know how much of an impact Campanaro could have made.
Jared Smith: I don't have full confidence in this opinion, but, yes I think we still come away with the win even if Campanaro stays in the game. By no means would it have been as easy as it seemed once we scored a touchdown (the second one basically put the game away) but for the first time all year it seemed like defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough had the other teams number. I think the Deacons would have had at least one chance in the red zone (they had zero), but I honestly think to two touchdowns was good enough to beat Wake Forest on Saturday.
Sean Keeley: It's debatable, because if Wake Forest had any kind of offense whatsoever, they certainly could have matched our 13 point performance. Campanaro would have been good for at least a couple big plays and if Wake could have scored two touchdowns (with conversions), they win. If nothing else, our new walk-on kicker almost certainly would have had to win the game for us in the final seconds (despite there being two other kickers ahead of him on the depth chart).
John Cassillo: Nope. Wake's offense was entirely reliant on Campanaro. He had 50 more receptions than the next player on the team. He accounted for nearly 50 percent of all completions by Tanner Price. If he had remained the focal point of the Deac' offense, it would have at least freed up the other receivers and maybe even the running game at bit. And if they'd finished off even one drive in that first half, it would've been interesting to see how Syracuse responded (my guess: not well).
What was the most encouraging part of the win over the Deacons?
TIS: The defense, without question. After a game when they only created seven (or eight) third down situations, they did something that says a lot about the character of this program.. .they "flushed it down the toilet", got back to work, and dominated Wake Forest. It takes a lot both physically and mentally to perform at such a high level over the course of a game, and to do that after the uber-DERP that was Georgia Tech makes it an even more impressive accomplishment. Well done, defense!
MM: The defense! 56 points allowed one game, Z-E-R-O the next game out. The Orange defense played surprisingly well in all facets, but I especially enjoyed the pressure put on Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price. The front seven specifically proved that, while it's not an elite group, the Georgia Tech game was an aberration. (Hey, maybe switching the entire defensive scheme in five days isn't a great idea, Chuck?)
DL: The bounceback effort that the defense had, after the thrashing down in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Even with the aforementioned injury to Campanaro, Wake had been playing really well on offense, and Syracuse made them look completely ineffectual. This unit could have lost all confidence and folded, but instead they came out and played their best game of the year.
JS: The bounce-back game by the defense. Sure, the Deacons' best player was out of the game, but, if you look at the stats it was dominating performance. As mentioned above, Syracuse allowed zero red zone opportunities to Wake Forest, gave up just 40 rushing yards (213 overall) and despite having just one sack (how many more would they have had if they tackled better?) pressured Tanner Price all day. It was impressive.
SK: You mean besides the fact that our defense responded from a 56-point shellacking by pitching a shutout? Say what you want about Wake's offense w/o Campanaro but they're still a bunch of capable college football players who should be able to score points. That our defense not only didn't quit but excelled so well is a great sign for the rest of the season.
JC: The second-half defense was particularly encouraging to see, as was the second-half rushing attack. Once things got rolling on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter, there was just this odd sense of inevitability about the win. I know that sounds weird when talking about football, but when this team plays to its strengths (running the ball, pass rush), they actually do inspire confidence.
Jarrod West's been a ghost all year; is that due to play-calling or his own lack of effort?
TIS: I think it is a combination of things, really. The game plan that SU can use given Terrel Hunt's capabilities limits how effective our wide outs can be. Wide outs are a bit like sports cars. When treated with constant care (with passes in this analogy), they perform fabulously. But if you don't take care of them, they can become fragile, temperamental, and break down. I think we're seeing that from Jarrod right now.
MM: I'll never question someone's effort because I'm not in that player's head. I have no idea if West is flaking this season, or if he's not trying as hard as he could. I will say West has been a massive disappointment and I think his lack of production is probably something like 60/40 his fault. Sixty percent on him for not creating separation, 40 percent on the Orange quarterbacks for not being able to find the open receivers. Actually, let's make it: 50 percent West's doing, 30 percent the quarterbacks lack of quality play, and 20 percent on the other receivers not being able to step up and became real targets. Ultimately, the blame should mostly fall on the player, but as we all know, football, more than any other sport maybe, is reliant on a number of moving parts and variables. It was a nice win on Saturday for Syracuse, but there are still a number of issues on offense and those problems need to be resolved if Syracuse expects to win two or three more games.
DL: I don't love the idea of questioning a player's effort when there isn't a concrete event or reason to do so -- I just don't think West has acclimated well to receiving attention as a number one receiver, and there isn't enough talent at the position to take pressure off of him. I was actually happy with a few nice plays he made in the Wake Forest game, which I think is a result of the focus on Brisly Estime on the outside. If McDonald can continue to develop Broyld and Estime as threats, it will really help West.
JS: A bit of both. I think we saw West's best game of the season, as he caught two passes for 58 yards, and on both those catches he put up a solid effort. He also sold the his trick-play pass very, very well. Look, I think at this point we need to expect that this offense isn't going to move the ball through the air like last season's team -- we need to accept this more and layoff the receivers and George McDonald needs to do the same and run the damn ball more. At this point, it doesn't seem like Hunt trusts himself to throw certain routes and McDonald doesn't want him to. So, I don't know how much we can place blame on the WRs when all this is happening. We just need to hope that when West and company get a chance to catch the ball they do so.
SK: I think it has more to do with SU's quarterback situation than anything. If Ryan Nassib is back there, West has 40+ catches right now. But the Drew Allen/Terrel Hunt monster just isn't made for that kind of production. A lack of a fellow deep threat isn't helping matters. No one is afraid of our receivers or our passing game right now, nor should they be.
JC: Play-calling, quarterback play (or lack thereof) -- pick either or both. The receivers have been minimized in George McDonald's offense, and when they are used, it's on one of two types of routes: screens (Estime, Broyld) or deep throws (West). When West goes out deep, you know the ball's likely headed his way, so defenses have him blanketed. Even that one deep pass he caught from Hunt on Saturday was thrown poorly, but West managed to reel it in anyway amidst coverage.
Wouldn't it be great to pummel Maryland on their way out of the ACC?
TIS: It would be great to pummel Maryland for many, many reasons... not least the offenses to the senses that are their Under Armor-designed uniforms... be ready for their next helmet design: Testudo the Terrapin humping a Blue Crab while wearing a Cal Ripken jersey.
MM: Two things here for me: 1) I have no animosity toward Maryland jumping ship for what it perceives to be a better situation. I supported Syracuse's decision to leave the Big East wholeheartedly, so why would I be upset about the Terps doing the same? And 2) While Syracuse has a nice history with Maryland, going back a few decades, the two are not rivals. The last time Maryland played in the Dome was 1994! Actually, that's the last time the two even played each other! Nearly 20 years ago. Sure, if Maryland wasn't moving on, it becomes the rival that never was, but the reality is the two barely know each other anymore and no Orange fan can really look down on the Terps for moving on to a better situation.
DL: It would definitely be fun, although it's a bit weird to say since we're the new guys here and at first blush and Maryland is making a move that resembles the one that Syracuse made just a few months ago. However, as we know, Maryland's money issues largely come from their own internal problems, and Syracuse was leaving a sinking ship conference that had become watered down by programs that didn't even really fit with the profile that Syracuse wants to align itself with. Obviously money was the main reason for the move to the ACC, but it made sense on so many other levels as well. Maryland to the Big Ten just feels like a total cash grab with few other considerations.
JS: It would be, but I am thinking that will not happen. I like this match up for Syracuse, as the Terps are really banged up and will not light it up on offense (I think Bullough will have a similar game plan as he did against Wake Forest), but the Orange will need to score more than 13 points to escape Byrd Stadium with a win.
SK: It would be great to pummel Maryland for a lot of reasons. Randy Edsall, Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, leaving the ACC for the Big Ten cause they're broke and need a handout, those ugly uniforms… I could go on.
JC: If we beat Maryland on Saturday, and then watch them and SUNJ get bludgeoned to death every weekend in the Big Ten, that would be the ultimate reward. The last time I saw a Syracuse game in person (Pinstripe Bowl), they pummeled their opponent, so it's only natural that they reward my cross-country flight this weekend with a resounding victory.
What will Syracuse need to do to beat the Terps on Saturday?
TIS: Maryland doesn't have the unique offensive scheme of a Georgia Tech, or the talent of Clemson, so I think we'll perform well on defense. We HAVE to get more production from Terrel Hunt. I don't care if it is through his arm or legs, but we desperately need a minimum of 225 yards in total offense from Terrel to win this game.
MM: On offense a punt can be a thing of beauty sometimes. No, seriously! The reason Syracuse had a shot against Wake, other than the injuries and the defensive pressure exerted, was because the offense didn't commit dumb turnovers. Maryland is banged up and totally beatable, but if Terrel Hunt or any of the receivers are coughing up the football, well, to quote Yogi Berra, it will get late early down there. So what's that mean? McDonald shouldn't force things, just let the offensive line eventually wear down the Terps, making room for Jerome Smith, Prince Tyson-Gulley, and Hunt. A 3-0 or 10-3 halftime lead for Syracuse would go a long way toward earning the fifth win of 2013. On defense, it should be the exact opposite philosophy. Keep on forcing things. Pressure, pressure, and some more pressure. There are so many inexperienced players in key roles for coach Randy Edsall, that forcing them into uncomfortable decisions should equate to a lot of third down and longs on Saturday.
DL: On offense, can we please use Jerome Smith like the featured back that he is? There is no coincidence that the offense sputtered in the first half when Smith only got the ball five times, and the second half where he got 12 touches, the passing game was able to do some things and Prince-Tyson Gulley broke a big run. Even when Smith doesn't have a big day himself, like Saturday against Wake, his presence opens things up for everyone else. On defense, get pressure on CJ Brown. Without his go-to guys in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, keeping him from getting comfortable in the pocket will go a long way towards halting the Terps offense.
JS: The formula for victory is simple for Syracuse -- run the ball well, stick to the run, don't turn the ball over and beat the living crap of the opposing offense. The Orange are very good at all those things. If they can do that they will come away with a victory.
SK: Try to find some consistency, first and foremost. This team looks different half-to-half, let alone game-to-game. Maryland's defense wasn't horrible (at least not as bad as ours) against Clemson, but their offense was. If that's going to be the case, our defense needs to play at the same level it did this week while the offense just needs to continue finding ways to create…something…anything. And just get out of the way and let the next eventual player injury happen.
JC: Run the football, please. Like, a lot more than you have up until this point. And get pressure on C.J. Brown. Coming back from injury, who knows what his mobility (usually pretty good) will look like, but I think it's worth testing him early. Without his top two receivers, he'll be out of touch with the pass-catchers on the field, which will play to the Orange's advantage.
How can Maryland overcome injuries and defeat the Orange?
TIS: Syracuse appears to not have much more than two or three scores in them at the moment, so 21 points should be enough to give The Terps a good chance at winning. CJ Brown is likely to be back, and his production would be a big boost to Maryland's struggling offense. Syracuse's achilles heel remains the defensive backfield, so if Brown hits the ground running (well, passing actually), and Randy Edsall can get some production from his depleted receiving corps, they'll be in a position to win.
MM: End drives with points. If Wake Forest had scored even just a field goal in the first half Saturday at the Dome it would have been a very different game. And Maryland should take note: get some points early and then make the Orange prove they can counter. Syracuse can win ugly slobber-knockers, but, against even mediocre competition (I don't know what to make of Tulane right now!) I'm not sold it can put up 20 or more points. It's easier written than done but the Terps should have a goal of scoring somewhere around 25 points.
DL: Randy Edsall has had a lot of success in the past in defeating his alma mater when at UConn, but he doesn't seem to have the type of rushing attack that he used to win many of those games. Maryland is 89th in the country in rushing offense, and Syracuse does well against the run (non-spread option category). The Terps need CJ Brown to get healthy and playing like he was earlier in the year, when the Terrapins rolled threw the cupcake portion of their schedule. Even without those receivers, he is a solid playmaker who can give Syracuse trouble. If he's not 100% and cannot perform well, Maryland may be in trouble.
JS: Take advantage of scoring opportunities -- when they're in the red zone score a touchdown, don't settle for a FG -- and force a few turnovers. The Terps do that and they should be well on their way to a home victory.
SK: Get out of the way as "Bad Syracuse" inevitably returns. Also, clamp down on the running game and let Terrel Hunt try to beat you.
JC: Grab an early lead of 10 points or so. That'll force Syracuse to pass (not really, but McDonald sure thinks it does), derailing the game plan and the most effective weapon they have, the rushing attack. From there, Maryland should be able to enjoy a tragic comedy of false starts, turnovers and a lack of execution en route to bowl eligibility.