Welcome to the Syracuse football roundtable! As you might recall, we've been enduring the long road back from a very disastrous (but still not as disastrous as it could have been) week one. But now on to bigger and better things: game two against Central Michigan!
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:
Obviously Central Michigan looked pretty good on Saturday -- what concerns you most about what you saw from the Chippewas against Purdue?
Ben Norowski: Thomas Rawls concerns me as we have struggled with powerful running backs. He transferred to CMU from Michigan for playing time, and clearly will be a factor against the Orange. However, Purdue is absolutely atrocious, and I'm not sure their QB will be able to do enough to keep us from putting 8 men in the box. So I'm not entirely concerned.
The Invisible Swordsman: CMU's ground game. Syracuse struggled against Villanova's rushing attack at the Dome, and Saturday will bring an even stronger ground attack led by SR RB (and Michigan transfer) Thomas Rawls. You'll never find... another back like Rawls, who amassed am impressive 205 yards in total offense against Purdue, and is 14th in the country in rushing yardage through week 2.
Jared Smith: What concerns me the most is it seems these guys can do a lot of different things on offense. I am pretty sure they were without one of their best weapons on offense at wide receiver and were still able to put up some points on Purdue. I think the SU offense can put up some points on the Chips defense, but the defense will need to show up on Saturday if the Orange want to go 2-0.
Matt McClusky: Central Michigan has an identity: Keep It Simple, Stupid. While things looked bad against Tennessee Chattanooga, the Chippewas were able to use the ground game to set up some easy passes in beating the Boilermakers. This isn't Florida State or Clemson, but Central Michigan looked very comfortable last weekend being kind of vanilla.
Dan Lyons: To me, more than anything else, CMU just looked well coached. They're not supremely talented, and probably not even more talented than Purdue, but the Boilermakers couldn't get out of their own way while the Chippewas just made the correct play most of the time and let the game come to them. Obviously, this can be a bit disconcerting considering how often Syracuse beats itself. Villanova was a similar opponent that was overmatched at many talent spots but totally outplayed the Orange. Bottom line, our guys need to clean it up this weekend.
Sean Keeley: Mostly that they're capable of grinding up Big 5 defense on the ground. Villanova moved through us pretty easily at times and CMU is a better program with a stud RB. If CMU has their way with our defense, it won't matter much what our offense can do.
John Cassillo: Running game, led by Thomas Rawls. A lot of good things happened for Central Michigan against Purdue, but the effectiveness and efficiency of that ground attack did seem to be a steady presence -- and the most important one.
Anything from the Syracuse depth chart release surprise you on Tuesday?
BN: Nothing really surprised, I expected Ishmael to get opportunities pretty quickly, he's an elite talent. It's very encouraging that Palmer and Robinson are back though, and that should greatly help the offensive line, which was weaker than expected in the opener against Villanova.
TIS: Steve Ishmael's inclusion at WR over Jerrod West suggests that our coaching staff thinks #8 has the goods. I don't know if that speaks to how good Ishmael is, or how bad our veteran WR corps is, but regardless it will be awesome to see a game-changing receiver wearing #8 again!
JS: Other than the wide receiving corps being a little out-of-whack (which doesn't really mean much to me), nope.
MM: The depth chart has become something of a relic. It's kind of a diagram for the team, but I think Syracuse uses the same approach the Miami Heat used up until this summer: Who cares about position or whether you start, just go play. Scott Shafer has said as much and I tend to believe him. So for me, the chart isn't anything to concern yourself with, at least not this early in the season.
DL: Steve Ishmael over Jarrod West was the only thing that really jumped off the page. It was nice to see him out there against Villanova, but West had a better game overall. Both will be a big part of the gameplan, but that was definitely surprising. Either Ishmael is just having a great few weeks of practice, or the coaches really want to get a point across to West. I'm super intrigued.
SK: Jarrod West...wa'happun? All this time I thought the issue was West being the odd man out in an offense not built for him but now that he's been demoted for a freshman, I have to wonder if West just wasn't the heir apparent I hoped he was. I assumed he was going to eventually flourish like Alec Lemon, Marcus Sales or Taj Smith but apparently it's just not going to happen. Shame, regardless of the effectiveness of The Bubble Screen Show, we desperately need a deep threat.
JC: Messing around with the order of receivers seems like it's more distraction than anything else (and this staff does seem hell-bent on Steve Ishmael getting involved wherever possible). So Ron Thompson starting at defensive tackle probably throws you for a loop most of all.
What did we hate in game one that we're unlikely to see again in game two?
BN: Terrel Hunt punching an opposing player won't happen again against CMU (hopefully?). I'm really not that worried as I believe with Hunt in the game against Nova we would have easily won. Special teams needs to work on their contain as that punt return was almost a killer for us last weekend.
TIS: Syracuse's D had a horrible time wrapping up ball carriers at or near the line of scrimmage against Villanova. John Robertson's uniform was either coated with Patrick Ewing's sweat, or there was a breakdown in fundamentals. With the bye-week, I am sure Chuck B and his staff worked hard on this part of our game, so I expect a big improvement this weekend.
JS: Hopefully the slow start from Terrel Hunt, who is the biggest key to the Syracuse offense. If he can get going early and keep in rhythm throughout the game then SU should be fine. If he comes out and struggles, well, it is going to be another long day for the Cuse.
MM: Terrel Hunt's punching dudes in the facemask, and even then, at least I think we won't see that again. Otherwise, I don't think we've seen enough of a full-Syracuse team to know what to expect.
DL: CMU's quarterback isn't really a runner, which is nice. The inappropriately named "Cooper Rush" has nine rush attempts for -3 yards. Meanwhile, Villanova deity John Robertson followed up his great game at the Dome with 216 yards and three touchdowns through the air and another 61 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Honestly, while Syracuse still shouldn't have been in the situation it put itself in against an FCS, there's a chance that Villanova is just really really good, and Robertson is a big reason why. Fordham was ranked No. 10 in the country when they lost 50-6 to Nova, for whatever its worth.
SK: A quarterback who loses control of his emotions. While I don't like the way Hunt continued to make excuses this week for The Punch Heard Round The Dome, I believe him when he says it will never happen again. Barring injury, we will get to see a full four quarters of Terrel Hunt and what that means. We'll know, for better or worse, if he's truly improved.
JC: Oh man, I so want to say play-calling here, but we're covering that below. So instead, how about a defense that not only looks as if they haven't taken steps forward since last year, but may have actually taken some backward? The defensive line seems to has lost its spark without Jay Bromley, and that's a big problem, because he's not walking through that door any time soon. So if we can actually get something out of that group, I'll be happier than I was against 'Nova.
Play-calling: What MUST change against CMU if we're going to see a different result for Syracuse?
BN: With Hunt, I think the offense would have been fine against Villanova. The defense needs to be more disciplined, although Rush isn't a running quarterback so worrying about over pursuit isn't necessary. It would be great to see us get some pressure on the QB as our defensive backs require pressure in order to succeed. Also definitely need special teams to step up and not get caught napping.
TIS: The inclusion of Ishmael combined with 60 minutes of Terrel Hunt suggests that SU will try to extend the field North/South more this week because after Bubble Screen-agedon against Villanova, we couldn't possibly extend the field less.
JS: I am assuming we're going to see more running the ball then we did against 'Nova. I think one of the game plans against the Wildcats was to use a lot more bubble screens to get our more athletic players in space against their less athletic players. In this one, I think (or hope) McDonald is going to run to setup the pass. I guess, we will see.
MM: I'm going to continue to believe that Syracuse changed things up without Hunt in the game against Villanova. So I expect to see more down-field passes and probably some more designed quarterback draws. Austin Wilson did a very good job in relief of Hunt, but there's an obvious difference between the two in terms of experience and talent. I'm hoping we see a more Hunt-suited offense Saturday.
DL: I get that the screens are utilized to pick up chunks of yardage and to set up passes over the middle, but it becomes totally moot if the offense never gets to that second part. I thought McDonald was far too conservative with the playbook while Terrel Hunt was still in, especially when it became evident that Syracuse wasn't just going to be able to just run all over Villanova.
SK: Can we call ANYTHING other than a run up the middle in goal-line formation? That's a good start. I love Adonis Ameen-Moore but clearly he's not capable of running through six guys when they all know he's coming. I really hope we mix it up when we're in scoring position because we're not built to ground and pound it into the end zone.
JC: Where to begin? There are SO many things we can say here, but most important might be the same thing we said last year: bubble screens are fine, but they HAVE TO set up something else. So please, PLEASE can we just set up something downfield? This team's going to need some big plays if they want to win on Saturday. Bubble screens don't really do that on their own.
What sorts of things would CMU need to do in order to pull the upset over the Orange on Saturday?
BN: Get Terrel Hunt rattled. Every team is going to try and get under his skin, and I'd expect CMU to do so. If they run the ball and control the clock like Villanova tried to do they could definitely wear down a thin Orange defensive line and keep it close until the end. They also need to keep the crowd in the game, since this is one of those rare opportunities for a mid-major to host a BCS school at home.
TIS: CMU showed they could move the ball on the ground against Purdue. If CMU's defense can create multiple 3-and-outs against our uptempo offense, their ground game could leave our D on the field a LONG time... leading to a repeat of our second half against Villanova.
JS: Just outplay the Orange. Look, I think we've concluded, with a few weeks into the season, that CMU isn't going to be a lightweight Syracuse will steam roll, especially on the road. This is one the Orange will need to earn and if the Chips can just play with SU, they will have just a good of a chance to pull off an "upset" as Villanova.
MM: Stick with what works: pound the ball, pound the ball, pound the ball and set up short-yardage passes for first downs. Chippewas' running back Thomas Rawls is a Michigan transfer who rushed for 155 yards against Purdue (134 in the second), a game anywhere near that stat line for Rawls and CMU should come out on top. Scoring early, even if just a field goal, to get the home crowd more involved couldn't hurt either. (And while it was just Purdue, Central Michigan's secondary was impressive, too.)
DL: If I was Central Michigan, I would do everything possible to keep the Syracuse defense on the field. Thomas Rawls looked like a pretty effective power runner against Purdue. If he can eat up four yards a carry, just keep feeding him as much as possible—Syracuse has really struggled with consistent power rushing attacks over the last five years or so. That, and hit your 25 yard field goals.
SK: Score points. I know that's some serious John Madden analysis right there but, right now, our offense is still getting it's feet under it, and I don't think we're capable yet of putting up 30 points in a game. If CMU establishes the run, maintains control of the tempo on offense, and can get into Terrel Hunt's head, they'll win the game.
JC: Score and avoid mistakes, because Syracuse is almost guaranteed to struggle with at least one of those things. If they can run the ball well and keep possession for an extended period (see: the Villanova game), it certainly makes things tougher for the Orange.
What will Syracuse need to do in order to right the ship and pull off a road win to get to 2-0?
BN: Play their game. They're more talented and with Hunt under center this should be a fairly easy win for Syracuse. Purdue is a terrible, terrible football team, and people are getting far too worried based on that. Get stops early on defense to take the crowd out of the game, and march down the field quickly, and Cuse will roll.
TIS: It's amazing that we have to ask this question, right? We are undefeated, yet our ship is un-righted... Anyway, the first thing we need to do is keep Hunt's left hand away from opposing players' faces. Assuming we can do that, just get back to playing our game. Be aggressive on both sides of the ball. Let our offensive backfield dictate the tempo and wear down CMU's defense, and give our defense enough of a breather to stay fresh and hungry.
JS: Forces a few more turnovers on defense, which, hopefully, can help fuel the offense. That's what I am looking for on Saturd
MM: I think a full game from Hunt and even the slightest improvements made on defense should be enough for Syracuse to at least eek out a win in Mount Pleasant. The thing is, if CMU gets out to an early lead, you have to wonder if Syracuse will start to panic a little given the week one performance. If Syracuse's defense isn't able to create pressure and stop Rawls, I'm guessing this won't be as easy a game as some experts think.
DL: Terrel needs to keep himself in the game (obviously), and get into a rhythm early on, and even more importantly, the offensive line needs to get it together. They had an awful performance against Villanova, and odds are, CMU's front seven is as good or better than the Wildcats'. Hopefully the return of Omari Palmer and Nick Robinson to the two-deep will help, but either way, there is no excuse for this unit to look so bad with all of the talent and experience it has returning from a strong group last year.
SK: The guys who need to step up on both sides of the ball just need to do that. Terrel Hunt needs to establish himself as the leader on the field, Brisly Estime and Ashton Broyld need to make plays, Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore need to grind it out, Cam Lynch and the linebackers need to smack some people in the mouth and Riley Dixon just needs to keep being Riley Dixon. In all seriousness, I think we see a better Syracuse football team on Saturday and one that might not win easily but pulls out the victory and eases concerns about this season falling off the cliff.
JC: Avoid mistakes (tough, I know), and simply do what they do best: Run the ball (usually) and establish a solid blitz throughout the game. Rush isn't a mobile guy, so that fear's gone. And for those who watched CMU against Purdue, their offensive line does not do well under pressure. Putting the press on the quarterback and forcing him to make plays should be a great way to establish early control of the game and then hand things over to the offense from there. Let's see if it actually happens, though...