Welcome to the Syracuse football roundtable! Remember that time we were all super positive and optimistic about this season? Well... we're trying to get back there. It's just going to take a little bit more time. Thankfully, there's a bye week to help us all grab that final piece of closure before we move on to the Orange's next opponent.
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:
In a game of scary moments, which one was the scariest for you?
Ben Norowski: I think the scariest was our starting quarterback coming unglued over what was a pretty normal, harmless hit. While we don't know what goes on with the trash talk and little things here on the field, it was a very immature moment for someone who's supposed to be the trusted leader of the offense (despite his non-captaincy).
The Invisible Swordsman: By far, watching Villanova line up for a chip shot for the win with no real chance for us to reply... we were dead in the water, and one shank away from utter humiliation.
Jared Smith: By far it was when Villanova was lining up for the would-be game-winning field goal. I thought for sure Syracuse was doomed and couldn't believe what was about to happen, and then, there was new life. That felt good. Sorta like being in the middle of the road and watching a 18-wheeler head straight for you and a the very last second it was able to turn and avoid you.
Matt McClusky: It has to be how John Robertson was able to shred Syracuse on the ground and through the air. Okay, so maybe he didn't "shred" the Orange in the passing game, but way too often Wildcats receivers were running wide open ten or more yards down the field and Robertson was able to find them with ease. The defense, all the way through, has a lot to work on going forward.
Dan Lyons: It had to be the 25-yard field goal attempt with a few seconds left. I knew the kicker had missed a chip shot earlier, and he was probably nervous and whatnot, but who misses that kick from straight away? It was a little less dramatic because I had Twitter open, and that ruined it for me. The two-point conversion that would have won Villanova the game was close, but you never assume a kicker, even a #CollegeKicker, will miss what is essentially an extra point.
Sean Keeley: I think it was about the time we got stuffed at the goal line for the third-straight time. That's when the flashbacks of the Iowa game came flooding back and it occurred to me that "the computer wasn't going to let us win this game." And it almost didn't.
John Cassillo: The missed chipshot probably would've been, if not for the repeated goal line stuffs. I can deal with not being able to punch it in, I guess. But the way in which Ameen-Moore was stifled and driven back at the line was frightening to watch, and inspired nothing but flashbacks to Iowa in 2006. So thanks for that, SU.
Who gets the blame for a lackluster win over an FCS team?
BN: It has to be Terrel Hunt. If he doesn't get ejected I think we run away with the game late. I can't blame McDonald because he only had Hunt for 2.5 series, and as much as I like him, Austin Wilson was not ready.
TIS: Everyone and no one. I mean, our defense couldn't tackle, our offensive game plan seemed totally disrupted by our lack of ball control, and our leader at QB let his frustration get the best of him after a Villanova defender seemed to give him an NHL-style face-wash. But given that everyone save our punter had a clanker, I'm just going to forgive and forget.
JS: All the players. I understand Scott Shafer needs to take the blame on himself because he is the head coach, but you're not going to convince me he and the rest of the coaching staff didn't prepare enough for this game. Seemed like players had chalked this up as a victory going in--I know I listened to an interview with Terrel Hunt and he was overlooking the Wildcats and looking onto Central Michigan. Lack of focus from the players is what I am going with here.
MM: Honestly, I'm probably in the minority but I'm willing to kind of write this game off a little without assessing too much blame. Terrel Hunt missed the entire second half, the offensive line is a little nicked up and Nova isn't a bad FCS team. Check back with me on this question in about a month.
DL: 1.) Terrel Hunt - we were just starting to open things up after some conservative early drives when he threw that very, very stupid punch. If he remains in the game, I think we win by 14 or so, and we'd be complaining about an ugly win instead of a heart-stoppingly close one. 2.) George McDonald - without going back to rewatch (because only John must suffer through a game like this twice), it didn't seem like much had changed from the mid-season doldrums of 2013 with regards to playcalling. Obviously, having Austin Wilson in during the game's balance changes things, but the play calling was very uninspired, in my opinion at least. Hopefully with Hunt ready to go on the 13th, we can see what this offense is supposed to look like right off the bat.
SK: Well, Coach Shafer. It's his responsibility to make sure the players are ready, the coaches are ready and the game plans are working. I don't know what else he could have done, but, the buck stops with him when it comes to how this team performs. He'll get the glory if things improve and the blame if they don't.
JC: Players play, and in this case not well. But against an FCS team, that should still be overcome by solid coaching. In Syracuse's case, we just didn't seem to have any on Friday night. Obviously I'm a fan of our coaching staff, but if the team is going to come out with a predictable offense, no preparation for backups, and a questionably vanilla gameplan that failed to utilize playmakers... that's going to be an issue against ANY opponent.
What's one bright spot you saw for Syracuse on Friday night?
BN: Obviously this team has a ton of heart and will fight for each other, and still did win despite a ton of adversity. Hopefully the team rallies around this bad win and makes a mission to come out and prove this was a fluke by giving Central Michigan a beat down.
TIS: Riley Dixon seems obvious, but honestly I will give our team some credit for hanging in there in overtime and delivering on the two highest-risk moments of the game...our fake field goal, and our stop on Villanova's two-point attempt to win the game.
JS: The play of Austin Wilson? Given the circumstances he was put in he was able to grind out a victory. I liked that a lot. Not saying I am trusting him in a ACC game, but if he had to play against Central Michigan I'd still be confident in him to pull out a victory.
MM: I liked Hunt's ability to scramble and keep plays alive, although it worries me that George McDonald is willing to rely on Hunt's legs so much. Hunt never got a chance to shake the rust of the offseason off, but at the least, he looked like a threat. Plus, Ashton Broyld had a big grab early in the game, the sound of Hunt to Broyld should be soothing to Orange fans.
DL: Uhhh...pass? I thought individual defensive players looked good, although the unit as a whole didn't. Cam Lynch, Micah Robinson, Eric Crume, and to a lesser extent, Rob Welsh had solid games. Austin Wilson also looked okay, all things considered. Out of all the QBs on the roster or hanging out in Florida, he fits the Terrel Hunt-tailored system the least, but he flashed a good arm and didn't make any really terrible decisions. If he is the best option after Hunt leaves, and we switch to a slightly different offense tailored to his strengths, I won't be too worried.
SK: There's potential in the backfield. While PTG and AAM didn't set the world on fire, they're set up to become a solid 1-2 punch. Throw in the screens to PTG, Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime and you've got a lot of opportunities to open things up, assuming the offensive line allows it to happen.
JC: Prince-Tyson Gulley can still run the football very well, which is nice. And Steve Ishmael looks like he'll be a factor in the passing game this year -- also a plus, since he has such a high upside. Other than that, I've got nothing.
Have your expectations changed for the Orange following the Villanova game?
BN: Not at all. When your whole offense revolves around Terrel Hunt and he gets thrown out on the third drive you can't really judge them on that game. The defense was a bit suspect but they were on the field for 15 of the first 18 minutes of the game and you're going to be gassed no matter how many times they went against our first team offense this summer. Not to mention that kid from Nova at QB could probably start for 5 or 6 of the other schools we'll play this season.
TIS: No. I wrote earlier this week that I am giving SU a mulligan, and as such, I will base my 2014 expectations on how we fare in a week-and-a-half against Central Michigan.
JS: I've gone from "this team should win seven games" to "I am going to take it week by week" with this team. And I guess, that's how it should be.
MM: Not yet but I am willing to hedge my predictions a little. I'm not throwing this team out after one bad game, but I am shifting my thoughts a little on the competition. Specifically, Louisville, which looked pretty strong against Miami, and Notre Dame, which pounded a weakling Rice team. I thought the Orange could possibly split those two games, now I'm thinking the road to eight wins just became more difficult -- doable but more difficult.
DL: Maybe a bit, but I'm still holding out hope that we just came out flat against a weaker opponent, and then the Hunt thing demoralized the team. Before I officially reassess my seven or eight win expectations, I want to see the Central Michigan game, and if we're being honest, that may not even be enough (at least, with a win) to really know what we have.
SK: Unfortunately, yes. I do think there's a long ways to go and we've seen Syracuse squads go from looking bad to looking good over the course of a season, but my dreams of an eight-win season feel a whole lot unreasonable this week. I'm downgrading slightly but I still feel like seven wins are out there.
JC: How can't they change, at least a little bit? This was a team we thought could win seven or eight games. And after struggling with Villanova of all teams, and exhibiting some things that can't be corrected quickly (O-line and D-line ineffectiveness, secondary's still a disaster, play-calling still leaves much to be desired, we still have no wide receivers), we could be in for a very rough fall. Have you seen our schedule? There are no more Villanovas left.
Which ACC team impressed you the most in week one?
BN: After a lackluster performance by Florida State, Clemson getting blown out, Miami/Louisville's offenses looking bleak, and every other school playing mid-majors and FCS schools, I'd have to say I was very impressed with Virginia. They played excellent defense and made Brett Hundley look more like a freshman than Heisman candidate. If they didn't shoot themselves in the foot so many times they would have won that game easily.
TIS: Louisville. Either they look very good or Miami stunk something awful Monday night. I am going with the former, as the Cardinal front seven completely dominated Miami's offense, and Louisville's offense and special teams looked very explosive. I knew they were good, but was hoping they would suffer a dip in form with the loss of Charlie Strong. Based on week one however, it appears we have three legitimately strong teams in our division... dammit.
JS: Louisville. I thought they had lost a lot and it was going to be a tough season for them, but they seemed to not miss a beat with a new head coach and quarterback. That game against SU isn't looking as winnable as we might have thought.
MM: No question, Louisville was the most impressive in my opinion. Game one against what was supposed to be a decent-to-good Miami team, starting a newbie quarterback all while reintroducing Bobby Petrino? That sounded like a bad combination until Will Gardner stepped in and looked pretty good replacing Teddy Bridgewater, and Petrino showed some of that ol' Petrino offense. Hell, the defense for the Cards may be the scariest aspect to that team right now.
DL: Relative to expectations, Virginia. If not for starting Greyson Lambert, who was a time bomb with multiple charges on Friday, UVA probably wins that game. They thoroughly outplayed UCLA for most of the contest, had Hundley very rattled, and exposed the UCLA offensive line. Matt Johns also looked very good, and UVA's receivers had a day. It could have been an aberration—the Hoos did beat BYU last season in Charlottesville—but maybe they're destined to make the weird Coastal even weirder, if that's possible.
SK: Probably Louisville, who proved they're still going to be good this year, even if they're not going to be as good as last season. As much as I feel like we have a chance when they come to the Dome, that feels less likely after having seen them take Miami apart.
JC: Louisville's the easy answer, and rightfully so. They handled Miami with relative ease on Monday. But Virginia's defense was puzzlingly effective against UCLA this weekend, and actually may have exposed the Bruins' flaws very early on. We don't play the Hoos this year, but if that secondary keeps it up, they could actually test a bunch of Coastal teams.
What needs to happen during this upcoming bye week?
BN: Terrel Hunt needs to apologize to the team and work to gain back some respect. I didn't have too many problems with the playcalling on offense or defense but maybe see which plays consistently failed and scrap them or figure out how to make them work. It's not as doomy and gloomy as people are making it out to be by any stretch of the imagination.
TIS: Jokes aside, we need to address the fundamentals this week and allow our team to start fresh. Our defense really struggled with tackling, and a week off will hopefully get us back to where we were last year when we were not letting up too many second-chance yardage. I trust Terrel Hunt will learn from the mistake he made and come back focused to lead our offense to a much more productive game against Central Michigan.
JS: Everyone needs to calm down, refocus and whip up on Central Michigan. If Syracuse can do that in a few weeks then things are going to be fine, at least for a week.
MM: The offense looked anemic and lost at times on Friday, but how much of that was due to Hunt's absence? Austin Wilson threw a lot of short screen passes against Villanova and the run game wasn't nearly what we expected it to be, but, again, how much of that was due to the change in game plan? We'll find out September 13. Defensively there is plenty to work on, though. The front needs to get better pressure (replacing Jay Bromley is going to be trickier than feared) and the secondary has to get better in coverage. The real question is: Are those issues fixable in season?
DL: 1) Get Omari Palmer and Nick Robinson back. I assumed that the offensive line would survive against Villanova without them, but I was wrong, it was really bad. On at least one of the failed Adonis Ameen-Moore carries near the end zone in overtime, he was more or less taken out by Ivan Foy, who had been totally bullrushed into the backfield. Foy stood out as having a bad game, but neither side of the line opened up much space for the backs. 2) Hunt also needs to get into rhythm faster than he started to against Villanova. Get him as many reps as possible. 3) I'd say that we need to eventually figure out a way to contain mobile quarterbacks, but I'm not holding my breath.4) Don't switch to a 3-4 defense randomly.
SK: Get that offensive game plan as tight as humanly possible and make that defense angry. Remind them they got tore up by an FCS offense and then tell them they need to prove they belong in the FBS against CMU. Oh and whatever Riley Dixon wants, he can have it.
JC: Find a way to get offensive playmakers more involved in practice, and then translate that to in-game planning. Either get the secondary to improve, or get the D-line more focused to rush the passer and stop the run equally. Also, keep giving Hunt the reins so he continues to understand how much he means to this team and offense. Feeling as much of that pressure as possible should allow him to assert himself more as a leader and keep his head on straight in the future.