The Syracuse Orange suffered a pretty rough loss to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Saturday. But now they need to regroup quickly. The Virginia Tech Hokies, ranked 17th in the country, come to the Carrier Dome with SU desperately in need of a victory.
So how's the Justin Fuente era going so far? Seems pretty positive from this vantage point.
It's gone rather remarkably well so far. Plenty of national analysts praised named Fuente's hire as among the best of the entire offseason, but certainly there were lots of reasons to believe he might struggle initially. He was bringing in an offensive system that was light years away from what former OC Scot Loeffler installed, and the defense had serious depth concerns — of course, no one was entirely sure how Fuente and longtime DC Bud Foster might end up being able to work together either. But so far, those concerns have proven to be unfounded.
QB Jerod Evans has been superb in the offense, and it seems Fuente's figured out the best way to use some of the team's talented skill players. Foster has proven to be as inventive a coach as ever, and seems legitimately liberated knowing he has an offense that can reliably score more than 20 points a game. There was some griping after the Hokies blew an early lead against Tennessee in the Battle at Bristol (largely due to an unconscionable five fumbles) but the fact that this team is ranked right now is pretty surprising given the expectations for it coming into the year.
How do Hokies fans feel about Syracuse at this point? Any leftover animosity from the Big East days? Or is this just another infrequent cross-divisional game?
There's definitely at least some contingent of the fan base that remembers the Big East days, and certainly some novelty associated with playing the Orange. After all, many players have never played in a dome before (Fuente says he's even contemplating bringing the team up a little early just to get them accustomed to that sort of setting) so I think there is some sense that this is a bit unusual, but nothing wild.
Jerod Evans hasn't gotten a ton of national hype, but he's put up some quality numbers so far at QB. What does he excel most at?
Probably the deep ball. He can be a bit inconsistent, and has a bit of a tendency to put a little too much mustard on the ball at times, but he's got the arm to push the ball down the field and has added a dimension to this offense that it hasn't had in years. For reference, Evans has 25 passing plays of 15 yards or more and 11 plays of 25 or more so far this year — Michael Brewer, the starter for the last two years, had 39 and 18 respectively last season. Evans has found real chemistry on deep balls to Isaiah Ford, and it's opened up the offense in many ways. He also takes care of the football, with just one interception so far this year. He's still maturing a bit when it comes to learning when to hand off the rock vs. take it himself as part of Fuente's read option, but overall he's been excellent.
Have you caught any parts of Syracuse games so far? What stands out to you?
I caught just a bit of the Louisville game, but my main experience with the Orange was the Notre Dame game. I'd heard a bit about Dino Babers ramping up the passing offense pretty quickly, and while the Irish are hardly the finest example of a stout defense, it was immediately noticeable that the team can throw. I didn't know Eric Dungey's name before that game, but I took notice, there's no doubt. I also took note of Brisly Estime — I recognized the name, since I believe he's related to one of our old players (Dadi Nicolas, formerly known as Wedley Estime) and he looked electric on punt returns.
Related: How much do you think Virginia Tech can slow down the Orange offense? Wake seemed to do a good job of it, with some help from the weather and some curious play-calling.
Well, the Hokies had their own Hurricane Matthew experience last week, which surely helped a good deal as they took on another pass-happy offense in UNC. But I do think that game provided an excellent litmus test for how Foster's group might handle the Orange, hurricane or no. The numbers speak for themselves (Tech is allowing the second fewest passing yards in the country and is allowing the second fewest yards per attempt by opposing QBs) and it's due to a secondary that's matured quite quickly. The team's nickel corner, Mook Reynolds, has been a revelation in his second year, giving Foster the ability to use him as a pure corner or more a linebacker hybrid. Truly, Foster's pass defense versus the Orange passing attack is strength against strength.
Is there an unsung Hokies player we should know a bit more about?
Reynolds is an excellent candidate for this spot, but I'll also take some time to mention CB Greg Stroman here. He's a smaller guy, and with CB Adonis Alexander's return from a suspension, I think the common assumption was that he might get pushed down the depth chart a bit. Instead, he's leading the team with three interceptions, and has been excellent in the return game as well. He wasn't especially productive as a returner last year, but he already has a punt return TD and is one of just three players nationally with more than 150 yards on punt and kickoff returns.
Any specific Orange player terrify at all/more than others?
I'd be remiss if I said anyone other than the nation's leading receiver. Amba Etta-Tawo's numbers are nuts, even taking the team's pass-heavy offense into consideration. Foster did a superb job of limiting Ryan Switzer last week (and ECU's Zay Jones before him), but it's abundantly clear that he'll be a handful.
Virginia Tech wins this one as expected, by _____.
I'd imagine Fuente and Foster have sketched out a similar game plan as the one they used last week. If Foster can use the versatility of his secondary to throw some different looks Dungey's way, he can neutralize Syracuse's biggest threat. The offense might be able to win a shootout, but I'm sure Fuente would be much happier if he can take a few deep shots to test the defense, but fall back on his running game. And of course, the team will have to avoid getting overwhelmed by a second consecutive conference road game, especially with a big home matchup with Miami looming.
Syracuse pulls off a surprising upset by _____.
For all the secondary's strengths, it has allowed some long passing plays, particularly against ECU. The Pirates had some (limited) success by exploiting some sloppy tackling when Tech was in man coverage, and they certainly disrupted the running game. Those both offer some potential trouble spots for Babers to examine. But if the Orange can turn this into a shootout, it would be unfamiliar ground for the Hokies, and on the road, who knows what happens?
Prediction time: What happens in this one, and why?
The Hokies are rolling at the moment, so I say they win fairly easily, something along the lines of 35-17. It wouldn't surprise me at all if there's a few nail biting moments, since this is only the team's second true road game and the temptation to look ahead to Miami will be great, but Syracuse's defense doesn't worry me quite enough to be seriously concerned.