Welcome to the Syracuse football roundtable! It's been an interesting few days, hasn't it? Well, we try to put all of that behind us and get to focusing on the Orange's upcoming opponent... who's going to bludgeon us to death in all likelihood.
We obviously enjoy our friends over at Tomahawk Nation and the interactions we get to have with them in the lead-up to facing the 'Noles. But it's VERY unlikely this game will be any fun for Syracuse fans. Sorry.
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:
Between Austin Wilson and A.J. Long, who do you expect to get more snaps at quarterback on Saturday?
Michael Burke: I feel like I could make a more educated guess on this by flipping a coin. Seriously, I have no idea what Shafer and Lester are going to do with the quarterbacks on Saturday. But I’ll guess that Long sees a little more action. Everything that I’ve read about him since training camp has been positive, and if you remember, he had the backup job secured before arm soreness set in. Still, if we see an even dose of both quarterbacks, I won't be at all surprised.
Ben Norowski: I expect A.J. to see the majority of snaps. If the staff thought Wilson was the better QB that gave us the better chance to win, there's no chance that they would have burned Long's redshirt for a game that, in the grand scheme of things, means nothing. I'd expect the total snap count to be pretty close however, and the result to look like the Jets QBs against the Chargers.
The Invisible Swordsman: Wilson. I think he's had more reps with the first team, and will likely be most familiar/comfortable with the playbook. I do think you will see Long get reps, but it will largely be Wilson's War until either a) he gets hurt, or b) it is garbage/hangman time.
Matt McClusky: I honestly don't know and I get the impression Tim Lester and Scott Shafer don't know either. I'll say this: I'm more intrigued with the possibility of A.J. Long, just because we saw a little of Wilson in game one against Villanova. Plus, Long could very well be the future of SU football, so, if the redshirt is out of the window, let's just go all in. However, if it wasn't Florida State but rather a more beatable opponent, I may be inclined to go with Wilson.
Dan Lyons: I'd lean towards Wilson in this game, just based on previous experience and the opponent at hand, but overall I think the coaches are setting up for Long to win the job. If they didn't think he was the best quarterback available, I don't know why they would burn his redshirt. If they think he can win this job, and play out the stretch, it is probably worth giving him the ball. If not, he shouldn't play.
Sean Keeley: While I'm sure we'll see both quarterbacks, I fully expect to see Wilson get more snaps. He's higher up on the totem pole, he's probably worked with the 1st-Team more than Long and I'm guessing Lester sees more of a chance to compete right away with him. Remember, Lester is coaching for the the right to keep his OC gig after this season, so he's going to do what's best for his offense.
John Cassillo: I bet Wilson starts this game under center, but by the second drive, we may see Long come in and stay in for a considerable amount of time. While Wilson has more experience, Long's the unknown, and for that, he gives us a better shot at hanging in this one for awhile. The margin will be close, but the true freshman gets more snaps.
What do you expect from Tim Lester as offensive coordinator?
MB: My only hope for Lester, at least this week, is that he proves to be far more competent than McDonald was, which, of course, wouldn’t say a whole lot. Other than that, I’m not expecting much. Without Terrel Hunt, Lester’s options will likely be limited. But as long as he calls appropriate plays at the appropriate times, it’ll be an upgrade and I’ll be content.
BN: Smarter play calling? Not running a sweep from shotgun in the endzone? A vertical passing game? I've been a big fan of Lester since we hired him and I expected us to struggle to hang onto him in the future as he had Offensive Coordinator written all over him. Happy to see he'll get the chance here. All he needs to do is put his quarterbacks in a position to succeed and I think we'll see that.
TIS: I have no idea, honestly. Given that the opponent is FSU, I can't expect Lester to get too cute with the playbook. Florida State's team speed is so exceptional, I would think that Lester will try to move the ball North/South but with more tackle-to-tackle running and down field passing. I also expect Lester to shorten up the RB rotation that we have seen so far from George McDonald. Look for one or two backs to pick up the majority of the carries moving forward.
MM: I'd expect him to reintroduce us to some familiar faces: Prince Tyson-Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore. Oh yeah, I'm talking about actual up-the-gut or off-tackle or on the toss run plays, and less bubble screens.
DL: I really have no clue. I can't imagine the playbook will change much, but based on what Lester has said, and what we know of his past, I think we'll be more dedicated to establishing what we know we do pretty well, specifically the run, and it doesn't seem like he'll try to get as cute with the playcalling. Without going to get out Elmhurst game film or anything, it is hard to really know what we'll look like going forward. I'm definitely intrigued though.
SK: Who the heck knows. We've heard that the offense won't look that much different, which is disconcerting. But the good news is that Lester got a close-up chance to see what went wrong with George McDonald and now knows what not to do. Or at least what not to try.
JC: A more balanced, straight-forward offensive attack. So that means playing to our strength (running the football), while allowing it to also set up the pass. Expect less screens, more tight end utilization, and perhaps some more two-back sets too. After all, telegraphing play-calls was one of our biggest gripes about McDonald, and Lester isn't about to go and replicate his single-back/empty backfield sets, is he?
Obviously Syracuse's wide receivers need to step up. Who's most poised to do so for the rest of this year?
MB: Easy one: Jarrod West. He’s been one of Syracuse’s few constant bright spots, even during the three-game skid. The past two weeks alone, West has caught 13 balls for 188 yards. Against Notre Dame and Louisville, that’s pretty impressive.
BN: I really like what I've seen from Jarrod West this season, even in a system that doesn't suit him. He's been getting open more often than he did last season and he needs to make himself the number 1 target so Wilson and Long have a reliable option they can count on.
TIS: Riley Dixon? I don't know...the WR corps has been a disappointment in each of the last two seasons, and no one seems to be stepping up at the moment. I look at the depth chart, and the only one that stands out as a potential breakout player is Steve Ismael...but his "breakout" isn't likely to happen this season.
MM: This is such a great question because of how George McDonald lost his position this week. We can all discuss the ineptness of a McDonald-run offense, but what about the old Jim Boeheim theory on coaching? That a coach is only as good as his players. While I agree with the masses, McDonald's offenses were unimaginative and mostly frustrating to watch, let's be real, the players have done jack. And that's doubly true for the wide outs. Will someone step up? I don't know, maybe Jerrod West will do something? But, even with a new coordinator, I don't see any reason why we should count on any of them -- especially with Ashton Broyld's injury.
DL: I think we'll continue to see Jarrod West do good things, as long as the quarterback play is competent. He's been rock solid in four of five games (the other was CMU, so no real concerns there), and is doing a great job on balls down the field. It is hard to know who Austin Wilson and A.J. Long will develop the best chemistry with, but West is a good bet based on his experience.
SK: It's most likely that we're going to have to lean on receivers who are nearby and dependable. Enter Josh Parris. I know he's a tight end but my guess is that Wilson/Long step up the reliance on the TE spot.
JC: I sure wish I could say Ashton Broyld here, but that's just not an option, sadly. However, I will go with Ben Lewis, who suddenly looks the part of scrappy, excellent pass-catcher who will amass 800 receiving yards in his senior year. Of all the wideouts for Syracuse, he's most consistently shown an ability to get open this season, and after some regrettable drops on Friday night, he is very likely anxious to prove those were an enigma.
Is this Florida State team the best football opponent to ever visit the Carrier Dome?
MB: Because I’m only 18 and haven’t followed Syracuse football for very long, I don’t feel qualified to answer this question. But I will say this: this Florida State team is the best college football team I’ve ever seen play. Even in the ACC, it’s pretty amazing just how dominant they’ve been in the Jameis Winston era.
BN: Since I started following the team in 2007, I'd say easily. Can't speak on the Miami's and Penn State's and SEC schools from the 80's and 90's though.
TIS: Wow, good question! My top three right now would be 1998 Tennessee, 1980 Pittsburgh, and the 1989 Florida State Team that started the year 0-2, before running the table and absolutely destroying LSU in Baton Rouge, #17 Syracuse (41-10), Virginia Tech, #11 Auburn, #2 Miami, South Carolina, Florida and #5 Nebraska. The current Florida State team could enter that list, but time will tell...
MM: I have to think it's close, but I can't overlook Miami in 1992, which earned win number 28 in a row by narrowly beating the Orangemen (I was there; it was amazing). Plus, the defending champion Canes of 2002 also paid a visit to the dome and also left with an impressive winning streak (33 straight Ws). Both UM teams ended up losing in the title games those particular seasons, but both were LOADED and were coming in playing at a high clip. Still, assuming the 'Noles end up in at least the playoff title game (how weird is that to write or say?), then, yes, this may end up being the best team to come to CNY. Right now, though? One of those two Miami teams remains on top for me.
DL: If this was the 2013 edition of the Seminoles, maybe that argument could be made, but I don't think that this year's team is quite as good, at least not yet. Florida State is a heavy favorite and should handle the Orange fairly easily, but they don't look nearly as dominant as the national championship team last season for whatever reason, and without looking specifically, I'm not sure how they stack up to some of the dominant Miami teams that Syracuse shared a conference with, or the 1998 Tennessee team that went on to win the first BCS National Championship (and that Syracuse should have beaten if not for an asinine penalty). Of course, Florida State's roster is stacked, and they should be able to flip the switch one of these weeks, so they certainly can change my mind over the course of the season.
SK: As Greggers would say, "Time will tell." If they end up winning the National Championship, they're in the conversation. But that conversation includes some really good Miami teams in 1992 and 2002. And even though they lost, that 1984 Nebraska team was pretty stout. Assuming they make good on expectations, this FSU team is likely in there.
JC: I'll go with "perhaps" for now, and if they run the table yet again and win the National Championship, the answer will be a definitive "yes." But for right now, I'm siding with the Seminoles' archrivals, the Miami Hurricanes and the 12-1 team from 2002. That squad was LOADED with NFL-caliber talent and should have won the BCS title that year if it weren't for some shoddy officiating. The blew the doors off of just about everyone (SU included) and for that, I'm happy to give them the top spot.
What's the key to the Seminoles running away with this one like everyone expects?
MB: The offense can’t be as flat as it was for most of the first half against Wake Forest last week, when the ‘Noles didn’t break a 3-3 tie until only a minute remained in the second quarter. If the Florida State offense is clicking, the Orange won’t be able to keep up, and Jimbo’s group will coast to an easy win.
BN: All they have to do is play football. I wish there was more to it than that but this won't be close.
TIS: The team bus needs to arrive on time.
MM: Don't reinvent the wheel and just let the stars take over and there really shouldn't be any issue at all. Honestly, the fact that this game is in the dome is probably an advantage for the Seminoles. It's easier to overlook a dysfunctional team like SU at home, but the travel and the "newness" to the dome should offset any potential mind-drifting.
DL: Shut down the running game, and rattle the quarterback, whoever it is. Syracuse is not going to be able to hand the ball to Austin Wilson or A.J. Long and ask them to go and beat the national champs. Lester is going to want to really dial up the running attack. If FSU shuts that down, the way that Louisville and Notre Dame did, they'll win this one without much problem.
SK: Just out-talent us like they did last year. Our secondary isn't any better than last year and it got absolutely torched in that game. Just take it to us early and often and they'll be playing hangman by halftime.
JC: Attack Syracuse's secondary and burn the Orange blitz with quick hits to FSU's speedy receivers. Defensively, just hit whoever is under center for SU, and stop the run as best as possible. Even if Syracuse moves the ball reasonably well on the ground, a one-dimensional attack just won't be able to keep up with Florida State.
What does Syracuse need to do in order to make FSU sweat for a couple quarters?
MB: Like Wake did in the first half a week ago, the Orange have to control time of possession and hope that keeps Winston and the offense from getting into an early flow. Syracuse won’t be able to keep up with Florida State in a shootout, especially not without Hunt. So if the Orange want to keep this close, the defense has to step up.
BN: Send a couple of students with nothing to lose to kidnap Jameis with some crab legs as bait? In all honesty we would need to play a perfect game, which as we've seen with this team is impossible. I'd expect us to be down 21 going into the second quarter. This will be ugly.
TIS: IF any perspiration is to occur, SU must control time of possession by having success running the football. On the defensive side, take away the big plays and try to create a turnover or two a la Notre Dame. Do that, and we may go into halftime with a deficit under two touchdowns.
MM: Attempt to convince Jameis Winston and the rest of the Seminoles that the dome is haunted! A couple of strategically placed "ghosts" and some timely sound effects over the P.A. system and, who knows, maybe FSU will high tail it out of town? "GGGGGGGG-GHOST!!!!"
DL: Force turnovers, and...wait for it...score off of them. Jameis Winston, who had 10 interceptions all of last season, already has five this year, including two in the Oklahoma State and N.C. State games each. He definitely looks more mistake prone this season, and Syracuse has shown the proclivity to turn teams over in the last few weeks. If the offense had scored off of those big plays, the result of the Notre Dame and Louisville games may look a lot different. While I don't expect Syracuse to pull an upset in any way, they could make things interesting by continuing to make big plays defensively.
SK: 1. Get turnovers, which is something Syracuse is decent at. 2. Capitalize on those turnovers, which is something Syracuse is not very good at. 3. Get lucky with some crazy trickery and/or insane play. Do all of that and we might just cover...
JC: Turn the temperature up on the Dome thermostat...