Everett Golson last played against Syracuse roughly 13 months ago. Then playing for Notre Dame, he finished 32-of-39 for 362 yards and four touchdowns as the Fighting Irish topped the Orange, 31-15, at MetLife Stadium. At one point, Golson completed 25 consecutive passes.
After taking advantage of the NCAA's graduate transfer rule in the spring, Golson now plays for Florida State, which will host to Syracuse on Saturday in Tallahassee. And given what we've seen from both him and Syracuse's defense this season, it could be easy for Golson to once again have success against the Orange.
Against Syracuse last year, Golson's plan was simple: to take what the Orange would give him. That meant a lot of quick, short passes. Of his 32 completions, he completed 17 of them behind the line of scrimmage.
Those completions were a mix of passes to wide open receivers in the flat and designed screens to both running backs and wide receivers. Syracuse never proved it could stop such passes, so Golson and Notre Dame kept going to them. And early in the second quarter, the Irish scored a 38-yard touchdown -- the game's first points -- on a wide receiver screen to Will Fuller.
On Notre Dame's next drive, Syracuse tried making an adjustment. On the first play, the Orange kept its entire front seven near the line of scrimmage and didn't have its safeties drop deep into coverage. This left cornerback Corey Winfield in single coverage against Fuller. Golson noticed this and beat Syracuse over the top with a 72-yard touchdown strike to Fuller, who had no issue getting by Winfield.
After that play, Golson reverted back to mostly throwing screens and passes into the flat, and it worked. Even after halftime, Syracuse wasn't able to make any successful adjustments and the Orange were consistently beaten on those passes.
Golson also completed a number of throws to receivers on comeback routes, as SU's corners were typically sagging off those receivers and giving them space to operate.
A year later, Golson is still taking what defenses give him. He hasn't been perfect this season, but he had his best game against Louisville on Oct. 17, when he finished 26-of-38 for 372 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 12 of his passes behind the line of scrimmage and was quick to throw to running back Dalvin Cook, who had four receptions for 60 yards.
All of this spells trouble for the Orange, and not just because of what Golson did last year. For one, screen passes have given Syracuse fits all season long.
Many times, that's because the SU defense has overpursued and had no chance to defend screen passes. At other times, the Orange defend the screens well but simply can't make the tackles. Against South Florida earlier this month, Syracuse sniffed out a screen to Ryeshene Bronson on a crucial third-and-14 in the fourth quarter, only to miss a number of tackles and allow Bronson to pick up 18 yards and a first down.
Syracuse also frequently plays the style of defense that plays right into Golson's hands. Like they did against Notre Dame often last season, the Orange's corners have frequently been giving cushions to opposing wide receivers this season. This usually prevents big gains, but it also makes it easier for a smart quarterback to pick apart a defense.
And unless an SU defense different than the one we've grown accustomed to shows up on Saturday, Golson probably won't have much trouble.