The Syracuse Orange won four of the first six games of 2018, and now stare out at a manageable closing schedule that could very well lead to the program’s first bowl trip since 2013.
However, because of the nature of when SU’s two losses happened — the last two weeks — there are some doubts starting to creep up about whether this squad can avoid the letdowns of previous seasons and get to the six-win plateau.
This article is meant to dispel those concerns and assure you that Syracuse will indeed be going bowling this year. For a look at the primary reasons why SU will struggle to win enough games to make a bowl, you can check out the companion piece: Three reasons to worry about the rest of this Syracuse football season.
After two straight seasons of less-than-aggressive play on defense, Syracuse has noticeably become one of the country’s most opportunistic teams in terms of forcing turnovers: 15 already this year, after 11 all of last season. Earning takeaways are always great for teams, but when you play at the tempo that the Orange do, they’re even more critical.
As we’ve seen in SU’s wins, the ability to flip the field quickly and then score has been game-changing, forcing opponents to play at our speed instead of their own (which is usually, preferably slower). Turnovers are certainly random and “lucky” to an extent, but the opportunities for them can be created by talent and scheme. Check and check it would appear, with this iteration of SU’s Tampa-2 and players like Andre Cisco leading the way.
No matter the talent we’re up against for the rest of the year, the ability to force turnovers allows us to close the gap, especially when paired with offensive tempo.
Aggressiveness isn’t just limited to forcing turnovers, as we’ve also seen a major uptick in Syracuse’s ability to generate pressure.
The Orange are tied for third in the country right now, with 20 sacks — already the most they’ve had in a single season since Dino Babers took over, and there are still another six games to go. Chris Slayton and McKinley Williams have been able to help collapse the pocket inside, but Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson have been absolute terrors for every opponent and have collected six sacks apiece. Linebackers and safeties have also gotten in on the act, making for something that looks a whole lot more like the height of the Scott Shafer regime’s best groups with regard to generating havoc.
SU’s strong numbers aren’t leaning on inferior opponents, either. In three ACC games this year, they’ve taken opposing quarterbacks down 11 times. This ability bodes well for what’s up ahead, with numerous upcoming conference foes leaning heavily on the passing game.
All season, Syracuse has been one of the leaders in starting field position, and remain that way (+10.9 yards per game) through six games. The reasons for the shift are a combination of things: The aforementioned pressure and turnovers, plus a strong (punt and kick) return game, quality punting and a little help from some questionable opponent decisions, too.
If you take a look at Bill C.’s team profiles and scroll to the bottom, you’ll find a collection of special teams efficiency figures that back up the claims above. Sean Riley’s become one of the country’s most dangerous return men and has already taken back a punt this year. Sterling Hofrichter is a pro at pinning teams back. And the fear of a big return is stopping teams from kicking directly to Riley as well. This is a key stat that — like turnovers — helps push the needle in Syracuse’s direction and then gives them more opportunities to take advantage.
What else are you very positive about so far? Share your own reasons for optimism below.