Welcome to the Syracuse football roundtable! The Orange are in a must-win situation here -- or at least that's my story. Despite what felt like a valiant effort for parts of last week, SU lost to Clemson, and as a result, they're 3-5. That's not good, and it's just two losses away from sitting at home for bowl season. We don't want that.
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:
What do you NEED to see from this offense vs. NC State, win or lose this week?
Michael Burke: It’s the obvious answer, but, for once, I want to see some success in the red zone. The Orange didn’t get the ball into the red zone last week, but when they have this season, it hasn’t gone well -- as we’ve noted game after game. So let’s turn that around on Saturday.
Ben Norowski: I didn't expect much out of the offense last week. I knew Clemson's defense was going to be far too much for a young QB like AJ Long to handle, and nothing I saw out there shocked me. I think we'll look very good this week just because NC State's defense isn't Clemson. I think we just need them to go back to what was working against Florida State and Wake, because we looked fine in those games.
Matt McClusky: I would love to see some honest-to-goodness offense out of the offense for Syracuse this weekend! A few completions to Ashton Broyld and Steve Ishmael for big gains would be great. How about some sustained drives that result in points, touchdowns or field goals? Basically, I'd like to see the offensive line give A.J. Long time and I would like to see what he can do with it.
Dan Lyons: Points. Syracuse got to the end zone a bit against FSU, and did what it needed to offensively against Wake, but the Clemson game was really hard to watch. N.C. State will be a major step down in opponent from the Tigers, and Syracuse needs to respond by finding the end zone a few times. The team needs it, the fan base needs it, and for heaven's sake, John needs it when he does the thankless chore of rewatching these games. #PrayForJohn.
Sean Keeley: Competence? Continued ability to drive the football down the field and finish those drives with redzone touchdowns? Is that still a possibility?
John Cassillo: An ability to score touchdowns, plain and simple. This defense does too great a job forcing turnovers and making up for the offense's ineptitude. Time to pay it back for only about the second time all season. We know Long can throw touchdown passes. Let's do some of that. Or maybe a running back can actually get across the goal line. Any of these things would be excellent.
Speaking of, however, is there really any wiggle room to lose this week?
MB: No. Absolutely not. Getting to six wins already feels a bit optimistic, and there’s no way Syracuse is getting there without beating N.C. State. That would mean beating Duke next week, then winning back-to-back road games at Pittsburgh and Boston College. Not happening.
BN: No, there's really not any wiggle room if we want to actually make a bowl game this season. Duke at home and Pitt/BC on the road already limits the chances of a bowl appearance, as we'd need to win all 3 if we lost this week. I just can't see us putting together that run, so we need to win this week.
MM: None. Zero. Nada. Ziltch. Syracuse loses Saturday and the season is over. I was actually one of those "happy with the effort" guys in the loss at Clemson. But N.C. State isn't Clemson. A win is necessary.
DL: As little as humanely possible. N.C. State is the most winnable game on the schedule, and Syracuse has a really uphill battle if it needs to win three in a row and beat a good Duke team to clinch a bowl. Obviously, anything can happen—college football is extremely weird as we all know—but I would have a hard time seeing Syracuse go three-for-three with two road games to close out the year if it drops this game to a shaky Wolfpack squad.
SK: Not really, no. I know we want to think we can push Duke around but they really are a good football team. And regardless of how bad Pitt has looked, that game is always a toss-up. Same goes for BC. This is probably the most winnable game left on the slate. Lose here and you're then asking this team to win three consecutive games, two of which will be on the road. That sounds impossible.
JC: Nooope. None at all. Duke is a tough out, and there's already a minimal chance we can beat BOTH Pitt and Boston College on the road. So if we don't beat NC State at home, there's no reason to have much faith in the Orange being able to win three consecutive tough games. Sorry.
Do you approve of Prince-Tyson Gulley getting the lion's share of carries, or would you prefer the offense mixed things up a bit more in the running game?
MB: I like PTG, but I’d prefer to see some more of Adonis Ameen-Moore this week. AAM has ran the ball pretty effectively this season, but he’s never gotten more than 10 carries in a single game, and has gotten a total of just four in the past two weeks. Let’s get him involved some more.
BN: Gulley doesn't deserve the lion's share in any way, shape or form. I was worried this is what was going to happen if he came back, and I'm worried it's blocking better running backs. Morris looked like he was going to break out last season, McFarlane and Ameen-Moore are both clearly talented and on any other Syracuse team over the past 5 years, Erv Philips would be seeing the ball more. Gulley's pretty limited and doesn't provide the explosiveness out of the backfield we need.
MM: I think Prince Tyson-Gulley has earned the right to the lion;s share of carries -- based on his career and his being fairly consistent this season. He probably deserved more run in the game in against the Tigers, actually. Having four or five running backs can be a lot like having no running backs at all (or something like that).
DL: I'm fine with PTG getting the most carries. I like to see the staff mix it up, and guys like Erv Phillips and DeVante McFarlane have had moments, but Gulley has been the most consistent runner, he deserves to be the featured back. Hopefully Syracuse gets back to running the ball consistently and efficiently, and we can work the younger guys in more, but Gulley should be the one setting the tone.
SK: Whether it's George McDonald or Tim Lester, we have a tendency to get a hot hand at the RB position and then run that RB into the ground immediately. So I guess my answer is, no, I'd like to see things get spread around so that when we do find the hot hand, we can continue to mix things up and keep defenses guessing. Too often everyone realizes that Gulley or Adonis Ameen-Moore is hot and then everyone knows to key in on that guy.
JC: No, but for a variety of reasons (some of which were spelled out here). This team gets its strength from its running game, sure, but even more so from a VARIED running game. So running the ball less times with just one back is twice the hindrance to SU's success. We've talked all season about how having five different, capable backs is a strength. So let's go use that strength.
Which NC State player concerns you the most (either side of the ball)?
MB: Jacoby Brissett -- the Wolfpack’s quarterback -- has quietly had a nice season. Take away the Clemson game (when he went 4-of-18 for 35 yards) and Brissett hasn’t had a bad showing yet this season. Win or lose, I expect him to play well on Saturday.
BN: Admittedly I haven't watched much of NC State this season. However, when I have, Jacoby Brissett has impressed me. He has some running ability, but the 16/3 TD to INT ratio is what sticks out the most. The Orange defensive backfield has been a weak spot this year, and this kid possesses the ability to make the short throws well that kill us. We'll need to pressure him early and often to get him off his game.
MM: Neither of State's running backs have done much in the last month, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett is probably just better than average. Of course, we all saw Brissett's monster game against Florida State (32 of 48 for 359 yards and three touchdowns), so he clearly can sling the ball around the field. But this is a team on a four-game losing streak and hasn't scored more than 18 points or allowed less than 30 points during that span. In other words: Nothing much scary about this Wolfpack.
DL: I hate answering these kinds of questions with the quarterback, but with this N.C. State offense, it begins and ends with Jacoby Brissett. Brissett has been very efficient this year, completing 61% of his passes for over 7 yards per attempt, and he has 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions. We all saw some of the fantastic plays he made in the near-upset of Florida State. The dude can play. The skill position guys around him don't impress me too much, but if Brissett is allowed to get in a rhythm, I'll get nervous.
SK: Probably Jerod Fernandez, who leads the team in tackles and interceptions. Dynamic defenders have a way to making their mark against us and a speedy linebacker like that can cause trouble easily.
JC: Going with Matt Dayes, which may defy conventional wisdom. He's not the leading rusher or receiver, and Jacoby Brissett may be the one who threatens to hurt us more -- but some of that could be because of Dayes. A versatile runner and very capable pass-catcher, he's just the type of agitator that could give Syracuse some issues and open things up for Brissett to take off or Shadrach Thornton to find himself some holes in the line.
What does Syracuse have to do in order to pull off win no. 4 and get themselves closer to a bowl game?
MB: As long as the Orange can limit the turnovers and penalties, I think they’ll come away with a win. They’re just the better team and, at home, they should win this one.
BN: We need our defense to keep playing like it has over the last three games, and the offense to play like it did the two previous to Clemson. I wish I had something more than that but this team has really been one that can't take the simple things for granted. We were as good as could have been expected against Clemson in the first half. If we execute like that against NC State this one could be a blowout.
MM: Establish an offense early and often. That means Long needs to be comfortable, Tyson-Gulley and the other backs in the stable have to create and the defense needs to rattle Brissett. This is a very winnable game for Syracuse -- so long as it doesn't implode.
DL: Pressure Brissett and shut down Shadrach Thornton and the N.C. State rushing attack. Force them to become one-dimensional on offense. A solid run game certainly makes Brissett's job easier. Offensively, teams have had success in a multitude of ways against the Wolfpack, but unless we find a Jameis Winston or Deshaun Watson on campus between now and Saturday, I still want to see the running game get back on track. In the four straight losses that N.C. State has suffered, they've given up 100 yard days to FSU's Karlos Williams (126 yards, 3 TDs), BC quarterback Tyler Murphy (132 and 2), and Louisville's Michael Dyer (173 yards and a touchdown). We're far more likely to see PTG and company run for 250 yards than we are to see A.J. Long do an impression of Watson, so let's lean on those guys.
SK: Keep playing that same defense and, somehow, find a way to put together at least one solid half of offensive football. We're not asking for miracles, just give us a mostly-good offensive performance. That should do it.
JC: Play offense in a way that actually results in the goal of playing offense: scoring touchdowns. Just defense isn't good enough, as we've seen repeatedly. Get the ball in the end zone!!! Fair chance the rest takes cares of itself.
How can the Wolfpack effectively tear out Orange fans' hearts on Saturday afternoon?
MB: Like Clemson was able to do, N.C. State must make AJ Long resemble the true freshman quarterback that he is. If the Wolfpack can force him into some mistakes, Syracuse just might be staring down a sixth loss.
BN: If the Wolfpack control the line of scrimmage we're going to be in trouble. Our defense has always been one that's fairly good at stopping the run, and our offense has always been one that can run the ball. If NC State stops us doing either, we're going to lose this game. They also should play a bend-don't break defense that allows us to go down into the red-zone where we'll inevitably screw up (only half kidding, that would probably work).
MM: Get pressure on Long and make him look like a true freshman. The pass block was suspect and Long kept his head down as he ran for his life on play after play against Clemson. N.C. State is no where near as talented, obviously, but making an inexperienced QB think he is running for his life is actually easier than expected.
DL: Prove that Long is closer to the overmatched freshman we saw at Clemson than the solid young quarterback that he was against FSU and Wake Forest, and give Brissett time to pick on a Syracuse secondary that is still the weak spot in a good Orange defense.
SK: Just get in A.J. Long's head immediately. Or at least get A.J. Long inside his own head. Make him uncomfortable and then watch the offense die a quick death.
JC: Force a couple turnovers and score more than 20ish points. That's an easy way to make us shut off all emotion, curl up in a ball and pray for basketball season.