Welcome to the Syracuse football roundtable! Things took a turn south last week against Maryland as the Orange simply could not get out of its own way. But because the team was still very productive on offense, there is actually some cause for hope -- despite the loss. Unfortunately, we're now banking on that hope being realized against a top-10 team, Notre Dame, this Saturday.
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:
Notre Dame's defense has been pretty stout thus far this season -- what will be Syracuse's biggest challenge facing such a tough group?
Michael Burke: Establishing a rushing game. Though the Irish are at least somewhat vulnerable through the air (they rank 49th in passing yards allowed per game), they are tough to run on. In three games, they've allowed only 2.9 yards per rush and a total of just 297 yards rushing.
Jared Smith: Converting third downs. It is safe to say that Notre Dame's defense probably isn't going to give up a bunch of big plays, especially since Ashton Broyld will not be playing, so it is going to be critical the Orange can convert on third downs, keep the chains moving and keep the Irish's offense off the field. (I feel a lot like a coach talking about writing that).
Matt McClusky: Giving Terrel Hunt time to create offense. There's no questioning that Hunt's ability to extend plays or take off and run is the main cog to George McDonald's offense right now. If the front line for Notre Dame is too big and fast for Syracuse's bigs, then things will get ugly quick.
Dan Lyons: Notre Dame's strength is stopping the run—the Irish are giving up under four yards per carry—and as we know, running is kind of Syracuse's thing. I really think that Hunt needs to provide at least a credible threat with his arm, and not to be a broken record for those who listen to me and John on the podcast, but adding more (read: any) play action to the playbook makes all the sense in the world. Hunt was far more effective in the one game where play action was a thing, Central Michigan, than the other two in which it was scarcely used, if at all.
Sean Keeley: Scoring in the red zone. It's already our weakest offensive skill and now we're going against a defense that's only going to be tougher the closer we get to the end zone. I guess that means we need some big plays, which...ah crap.
John Cassillo: SU's offensive line is going to have to figure out a way to out-muscle them in the trenches, because we're going to need holes opened up for our running game. Through much of the Villanova game, the O-line was manhandled and the offense struggled to get things going -- and that was 'NOVA. Against a much bigger, better and faster Notre Dame line, our guys have to bring everything they've got on Saturday night if we want to move the ball.
Obviously the Orange rushing attack has been the key to the offense - which SU back has a breakout game on Saturday night (if any)?
MB: I can’t envision any Syracuse running back having much success on Saturday, but how could I not love what I saw from Prince-Tyson Gulley against Maryland? If anyone’s going to be have a good evening on the ground, it’s him.
JS: I think if the Orange are successful on offense it is because Prince Tyson-Gulley is doing his thing, which is zipping through holes the offensive line is providing. Or, it is going to be Terrel Hunt because he has been a solid running back (not such much quarterback) this year.
MM: I'll go with Prince Tyson-Gulley because A) he looked like a man possessed against Maryland and B) he is the most experienced of the backs in the stable. Hell, it feels like Tyson-Gulley was on the '08 team that beat Notre Dame! Although, I think Hunt may finish the night with the most rushing yards because the Irish are stout against the run.
DL: In a big game against a tough opponent like this, I expect Syracuse to stick to its normal horses. PTG and AAM will get the majority of the carries, while Hunt will do his normal things as well. I think we'll see the same amount of Morris and Erv that we've grown accustomed to, but this is a game where Shafer and McDonald will go with the guys they're most comfortable with.
SK: Hard to tell as its one of those "any given Saturday" situations right now. My guess is that we're going to rely on Prince-Tyson Gulley to step up with some seniority. Thinking they've got the bodies to shut down AAM and Erv Phillips may be in for a "welcome to college football" type moment.
JC: Above I alluded to the challenges we'll have with Notre Dame's defensive line, so the best way to wear that group down would be some early doses of Adonis Ameen-Moore. I've given up on figuring out what George McDonald's strategy is from week-to-week, but if I had to guess, Ameen-Moore could be utilized early on to soften them up for PTG and even Erv Phillips to start finding some bigger holes later on.
We've seen several different versions of Terrel Hunt this season. Which one shows up against Notre Dame?
MB: I expect, for some reason, that we see Good Terrel Hunt on Saturday. The one we saw glimpses of against Central Michigan. Not the one that struggled badly with accuracy against Maryland, when he went 14-of-28 and seemed to missed open receiver after open receiver. Again, if the Irish defense has a weakness, it’s the secondary. I don’t expect Hunt to be flawless, but I do expect that, at least as a pocket passer, he will have his best game of the 2014 season.
JS: I have a bad feeling we're going to see a spell of Bad Terrel Hunt. I had a bad feeling going into the Maryland game that he is just too overconfident and that chip on his shoulder is gone. I think, he thinks he has proved himself and his edge just hasn't been there. I hope he regains his edge this week against Notre Dame, but I am not so sure.
MM: I'll shift the blame around evenly regarding some of the quarterback issues we've seen so far this season: Hunt's inaccuracy is a huge concern, but his wide receivers don't seem to be getting separation either. Without Ashton Broyld I'm guessing those problems won't be fixed Saturday night. But, again, I think Hunt's running and overall size will allow for him to have a "good" game, even if the stats don't necessarily back it up.
DL: He won't be quite as efficient as he was at Central Michigan, but I expect him to be more accurate with his ball placement than he was against Maryland, where he was all over the place. Some, including Tim Lester in a recent Syracuse.com article, suggested that Hunt's accuracy may have been affected by the amount he was rushing (Terrel put up a career high 23 carries against Maryland), so maybe that knowledge impacts play calling some. I'm nowhere near ready to bury Hunt as a true dual-threat quarterback, I think he'll step up against the Irish.
SK: All of them. So hard to tell which Hunt shows up and when. If he's able to actually maintain some control, we'll see the Terrel Hunt who can make his completions, keep the offense humming and drive the Orange across the 50-yard-line. I like that Terrel Hunt.
JC: Note to McDonald: It "better be" the one that utilizes play-action. If Syracuse decides to use play-action and that shoulder-fake thing he did against CMU, his timing's likely to be better than what we saw last week. I still think we're going to see a combination of "Good Hunt" (precision throws, great decision-making, steady command of the offense) and "Bad Hunt" (forces things with throws, great decision-making, quick to pull it down and run). Notice that there's some overlap there... which is why this is so difficult to truly figure out.
How do you expect the SU defense to keep containment on Irish QB Everett Golson?
MB: I don’t. If, at the Carrier Dome, they weren’t able to prevent Villanova’s John Robertson or Maryland’s C.J. Brown from being effective, whether it be as a runner in Robertson’s case or through the air in Brown’s case, they certainly won’t be able to contain Golson.
JS: The hope is they pressure him and contain his ability to make big plays with his legs, right? If they don't do that then Golson is probably going to shred that defense through the air because for the fifth year in a row SU doesn't have a defensive back that can cover a snail if it was running a route. The SU defense needs somebody to make a few plays (big sacks, turnovers, third-down stop) and it could do enough to keep SU in the game, then the rest is up to Hunt and the offense.
MM: Two words: I don't. Golson has looked very Heisman worthy in the three games back with Notre Dame, and with Syracuse's problems in getting to quarterbacks, well, I don't have a good feeling about this one for the Orange.
DL: They did well in that regard against C.J. Brown, who is a more dangerous rushing threat than Golson, so I'm not too worried about it, beyond the obvious fact that Golson is a better player. Our defensive ends aren't huge pass rushers, so hopefully they can set the edge and allow Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis to do what they do on the pass rush. I'm more worried about Golson as a passer than as a runner.
SK: Blitz the ever-loving crap out of him. See how that goes. Why the hell not?
JC: Well, they're definitely going to blitz, but you knew that. Now the question is how they choose to spy on him while doing so -- while also covering receivers in the flat. Early last week, that didn't go too well, but things settled down later on and C.J. Brown never really did get going on the ground. So I'm expecting some combination of five-man rushes and perhaps the "Okie" package for a few series to try and keep Golson guessing a bit.
Syracuse is an underdog here; how can they pull of a big upset on national television?
MB: Terrel Hunt needs to have as good of a night as I think he is capable of having, and he needs to do it through the air. He can’t run for 156 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame. It's not happening. So, he’ll need to match Golson throw-for-throw. But even if he does, I’m still not sure it will be enough to even keep the Orange in the game.
JS: A combination of: 1) The offense sustaining long drives to keep Notre Dame's offense off the field; 2) The defense making big plays (sacks, turnovers and third-down stops); and 3) a big special teams play (muffed punt from Notre Dame, or SU kick return) will give the Orange a chance to pull off the upset. I don't think Notre Dame is as good as the USC team SU was able to hang with a few years back, but this is a good team and there will be a big Notre Dame fan base.
MM: Syracuse has to ELIMINATE MISTAKES. Hunt can't have any errant passes become interceptions; tackles have to be made with the first line of defense, not the second; and any and all chip-shot field goals have to be made. Easy stuff, right? Seriously, though, SU beat itself against Maryland (that sounds dirty), if those errors happen again, this one will be over by half.
DL: 1.) Control the ball, and finish drive. Syracuse has proven that it can piece together long drives, now we need to see them put up some points. 2.) Be advantageous on defense. SU is yet to pick off a pass, despite three really prime opportunities on Saturday. Golson is yet to throw one this year. Eventually these two things have to change, right? 3.) Play smart, and stop with the awful, drive killing penalties. Notre Dame is a very poised team, and have only given up 73 yards via penalty, good for third in the nation. SU hasn't been as bad as years past, they're currently tied for 48th in fewest penalty yards with 165, but as we saw with the shaky Ivan Foy (or his evil twin Ian Foy) hold that cost Hunt a touchdown run, SU still has the tendency to shoot itself in the foot on big plays.
SK: More than anything, take advantage of the opportunities presented to you. If you get a turnover, you have to turn it into points. If you're able to get good field position, you have to put points on the board. Syracuse cannot afford to leave points on the table and miss out on any scoring chance. It doesn't have to be flawless but it has to be close to that...
JC: Move the football exactly like you did last week... except keep doing so even when you get past the opponent's 30-yard line. Remember: the Orange still amassed 589 yards of total offense last week, which is nothing to scoff at. If they can limit mistakes (turnovers, penalties) and just keep that aggression up for the full length of the field, we should have ourselves a game. Notre Dame's pace is also among the slowest in the country, so some quick strikes by SU at the start could set a difficult tone for the Irish for the rest of the night.
Notre Dame wins this thing going away If ___ (fill in the blank)
MB: They show up to MetLife Stadium by 8:00pm on Saturday. I know, I’m a #disloyalidiot. But the Orange can’t hang with the Irish. Sorry.
JS: Syracuse plays like it did last week. I hope they don't.
MM: Golson goes off and Hunt completes too many passes to the wrong guys.
DL: If Notre Dame's reshuffled offensive line holds up against Shafer and Chuck Bullough's heavy pass rush, if Everett Golson is legitimately a Heisman-level player on Saturday, and perhaps most importantly, if Notre Dame's defense continues to shut down the run, things will get ugly, and I will be off to the concession stand to light my money on fire, probably like $12 at a time.
SK: Syracuse starts the game the same way they started the Maryland game. There will be no comeback opportunity.
JC: Syracuse can't close out drives. This has been a problem since last season, and it doesn't appear to be going away. The Orange simply need to find it within themselves (or within McDonald's playbook) to push past whatever mental or physical wall exists once they get into scoring range. Should they fail to do that, expect Notre Dame to have this thing closed out pretty quickly.