The Syracuse Orange looked incredibly shaky in their season-opening victory over the Villanova Wildcats, so it's understandable that expectations would be tempered for their week three matchup with the Central Michigan Chippewas. And yet, Syracuse went on the road and picked up a resounding victory this afternoon, beating Central Michigan by a score of 40-3 in a game that honestly could have been even more lopsided than that.
CMU's offense started quickly, moving down the field with the pass and earning themselves a field goal halfway through the first quarter. But from then on, it was all Syracuse. Of course, the Chippewas did not have the services of wideout Titus Davis (injured) or halfback Thomas Rawls (inactive for reasons still TBD), which certainly did not help things at all. Without their top ball-carrier, the Chips managed just 34 yards on the ground (1.5 yards per carry), forcing them to rely on the passing game for much of the contest. Quarterback Cooper Rush saw constant pressure throughout the day, finishing 18 of 34 for 183 yards, several tipped passes and what will likely be nightmares of SU's front-seven for quite some time.
Following the shaky start for Syracuse's defense, the group re-focused, continued hammering CMU's offensive line with aggressive blitzes, and sent them scrambling for the majority of the game's last three quarters. Cameron Lynch and Marqez Hodge were absolute terrors throughout the game, with the former recording a safety and the latter returning a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Eric Crume benefited a ton from the increased pressure brought by Hodge and fellow tackle Wayne Williams, finding himself in the backfield at least once per every set of downs.
While the defense set a very obvious, aggressive tone though, the majority of the points were put up by the offense, which looked as crisp as we've seen them under George McDonald. The big question coming in was how Terrel Hunt would respond after his ejection from two weeks ago. Well, it couldn't have gone much better than what we saw on the field today, to be honest. Hunt was 20-for-30 throwing the ball, for 175 yards and a score (to Brisly Estime). He also added 92 yards and three touchdowns on the ground -- keeping CMU's defense diving in far too many directions to ever really be effective stopping the SU attack.
Obviously Hunt was the star, and if you saw the majority of his passes, you'd have noticed a sharp, quick focus that was largely absent in the 2013 season. Delivering laser after laser to the Orange receivers, for a stretch, it appeared Hunt could literally do no wrong with the football. It also helped that the team did not lean on bubble screens, and rather used them to set up inside runs and some downfield throws (what they're intended for???). They also utilized a large cast of characters in the passing game, with 12 (!!!) different players catching at least one pass. And yet, throwing the ball may not have even been SU's biggest strength on the afternoon...
We've said repeatedly that this team needs to run the ball well in order to win football games. Well, they did just that today, and then some. On top of Hunt's 92 yards on the ground, Adonis Ameen-Moore added another 106 (admittedly, plenty in garbage time) and freshman Erv Phillips surprised everyone with nine carries for 55 yards. At one point in the third quarter, Phillips was run for four straight plays, as the Chippewas' defense simply could not take down the speedy ball-carrier at all. Elsewhere, there are a few concerns about the effectiveness of Syracuse's other backs (Devante McFarlane, Prince-Tyson Gulley and George Morris II combined for just 38 yards on 16 carries), but none of those players were ever afforded the opportunity to gain a rhythm either.
So what have we learned here? Syracuse needs to run the ball (duh), and bubble screens can be effective when used sparingly. Terrel Hunt is a much better passer this year, it seems, and that will be an asset for us going forward -- especially if he's going to keep delivering balls like he threw today. Erv Phillips looks like the surprise "darling" of the offense right now, but we'll see where that goes. It's also interesting to see how quickly Jamal Custis and Steve Ishmael have been thrown right into this offense, almost displacing veterans like Adrian Flemming and Jarrod West in the gameplan.
Defensively, KEEP BLITZING. Of course we can't blitz 70-80 percent of the time against faster squads, but against a Central Michigan team without two of its top offensive weapons, that's a very sustainable (and highly recommended) strategy. There are still concerns about the viability of this front-four, but they appear to be getting better with time and experience. Jury's still out on the secondary, as they haven't really been tested a ton through two games.
Great, necessary win for the Orange, and that's something to be celebrated. Syracuse is 2-0 for the first time since 2011 (ugh...), and now enter a very rough stretch of the schedule that's likely to define this entire season. But don't get worked up about that now. Just bask in the huge victory today and enjoy the rest of your Saturday.