Last week's game was not fun. Lucky, the Syracuse Orange play again this coming Saturday, with a chance to right the ship against the Virginia Cavaliers. If they do, we'll all be very happy around here. If they don't... SO MUCH FIRE.
Below, Paul Wiley (who you should follow on Twitter) from SB Nation's excellent Streaking the Lawn, stops by to share everything we'll need to know around the Hoos. Come Friday, we'll answer some questions over there too and can share that link once it's live.
It's been tough to get a read on Virginia this season. Is the 1-4 record mostly a product of a difficult schedule, or a team that lacks talent in some key places?
Both? The schedule definitely hasn't helped: Virginia's four out-of-conference opponents are a combined 18-4 on the year. But the key talent cog missing has been pass rushing. When Eli Harold and Max Valles left for the NFL Draft last year, they left a serious void in their wake. The Hoos don't have the terrifying edge rusher that makes Jon Tenuta's blitz-happy defense go. As a result, Virginia's very talented DBs have been left out to dry and given up too many big plays.
Have the Hoos finally reached the end of the road with Mike London? What's it going to take for the athletic department to move on to a new option?
Yes, yes, and hell yes. Well, yes at least for the fans. With how poorly the athletic department has run the football program, and the AD's public statements that winning football isn't that important (yes really), and the price tag for buying out London, who knows what counts as enough? Unless there's some totally unknown scandal that would negate the "but he's a great guy" counter-argument, it's probably still 50-50 on whether London returns for 2016.
The Virginia offense has struggled for consistency. If you had to pick one or the other, would you point a finger at the run game or the passing game most of all?
I would point all five fingers (but one in particular) at the run game. Virginia is dead last in the country in rushing success rate, according to Bill Connelly's metrics. Weirdly, though, that same putrid rushing attack is 8th in explosiveness, meaning on the few occasions they actually do run the ball well, they run it REALLY well. The reasons are apparent to even a casual fan: subpar offensive line, rushing opportunities for the wrong guys, and too many plays out of the shotgun that have the back moving laterally instead of forward.
UVa's calling card is defense, but teams have been able to rack up yardage on them in 2015. What's wrong this year versus previous ones?
See above re: no pass rushers. To elaborate on that, there's plenty of heft in the front seven. Mike Moore, for instance, is a 270ish pound OLB, having moved there from DE. But there's no one who is going to blow by an offensive tackle, or at least no one who has shown that ability thus far. Tenuta hasn't adapted well to his talent, either. With an all-world secondary and a questionable defensive line, it seems like the better strategy is to play well disguised coverages, confuse a QB enough to slow him down, and let the DL pick up some coverage sacks. Instead, the DBs play tight man-to-man and the QB has all day to throw. That's a really bad combo.
What's the ceiling of this season for Hoos fans? Still thinking of bowl game possibilities, or has that ship sailed already?
Let's start by trying for an FBS win, as Virginia is the only team in the ACC without one. Beyond that, I don't think anyone is holding out much hope for a bowl game. There don't appear to be five more wins on Virginia's schedule. Georgia Tech has looked terrible in recent weeks but they have had the Hoos' number the past few years. On the flip side, Virginia has had Miami's number but that game is in Coral Gables this year and U.Va is abysmal on the road. Personally, my best case scenario is beating a vulnerable-looking Virginia Tech team at the end of the year and getting off the decade-long schneid.
Who's one unsung player (on either side of the ball) Syracuse should keep an eye out for on Saturday?
Is it too pessimistic to say the punter? (Ed. Note: No, it is not) Nick Conte is averaging better than 46 yards a punt, and 30% of his punts have resulted in fair catches or spots inside the 20. As for regular position players, I want to see more of freshman RB Olamide Zaccheaus, aka the great and mighty OZ. He's the Hoos' best kickoff return man and could be used as a big play threat either out of the backfield or in the slot.
Virginia deals Syracuse a demoralizing loss on Saturday by _____.
Playing to its strengths instead of its weaknesses. There are several RBs better than Maryland transfer Albert Reid, namely Jordan Ellis and Daniel Hamm; they need to be getting the touches over Reid. The defense will be facing young QBs, whether it's Dungey or Mahoney under center. Get exotic and use the DBs as the core of the defense.
The Orange rebound and beat the Hoos by _____.
Letting the Hoos beat themselves. Odds are, Dungey is going to have some chances downfield. The Orange are on the plus side in two areas where Virginia is very weak: field position and turnovers. And if it's close at the end of the game, Mike London will find some way to brainfart away Virginia's chances to win.
Prediction time: Who wins this one and how?
As for the "how," I'm going to say "ugly." But there is definitely an opening for Virginia due to Syracuse's soft pass defense. While the Orange haven't given up a ton of big plays through the air, they do allow teams to convert passing opportunities at one of the highest rates in the country. Matt Johns will need to be on his game but I think he'll find his spots enough to move the offense better than in weeks past. I'll go 27-24, Virginia.