The Confidential

The ACC Sports Blog

Syracuse: Does Not Lose

This author has been historically positive regarding Syracuse Orange football… looking for positives in the midst of a negative period. It was the only way to cope with the Greg Robinson era and its sequellae. Not to be a Pollyanna, but to find some positive reality in the middle of a negative stretch. Unfortunately, the only way to describe the Syracuse-Villanova game, which ended with a 27-26 score in favor of Syracuse, is to describe it as Syracuse “did not lose.” Notwithstanding the scoreboard, sitting in the Carrier Dome for 4 hours did not persuade me that my team actually won.  Here is my synopsis…

First, Scott Shafer and his staff were outcoached.  Shafer’s time management at the end of regulation was abysmal.  To call a timeout after the other team achieves a first down is unacceptable when there are 90 seconds left in the game and you might need time to make your own game-ending drive.  Predictably, Villanova’s coaches ran the clock down to 14 seconds.  While they missed the FG inexplicably, Villanova set themselves up for a win with the assistance of poor coaching by Shafer.  (And, when Syracuse did get the ball back, it responded with a delay of game penalty).

In addition, it remains perplexing that the team could not figure out a way to stop an FCS quarterback.  The defensive ends routinely lost contain.  Regardless, there was no solution and Villanova largely moved up and down the field with little resistance.  But for poor special teams play out of its kicker, Villanova lost out points on two drives.

Offensively, you get the ball on the 1 yard line with a first down in overtime, you should score a touchdown.  However, if you decide to line up in a Pistol formation and hand it off to a bruising RB at the 6 yard line, you have the potential to lose yardage–which they did twice.  Regardless, the inability to move the ball on the ground against undersized Villanova does not bode well.  Similarly, the staff failed to realize that they did not have the speed to get around the end against an FCS foe.  At some point, coaches have to realize the situation presented.

Second, not sure why the Internet criticism over Austin Wilson’s performance.  It was his first game ever.  Not like we saw great things out of every historical Syracuse QB in his first game.  And few of them came in unexpectedly in a close game, as Wilson had to do.  He committed no turnovers.  The playcalling was suspect on his behalf.  The kid did fine.  I have full confidence in him moving forward.  And even if he never plays all year again, he got valuable experience and is 1-0 as a starter.

Third, despite the above issues, a win is a win  is a win.  Villanova could have won, had its kicker hit a 25 yard field goal.  Villanova’s decision to go for 2 was logical–Syracuse had not been able to contain their QB.  The playcall was odd–the play that Syracuse could not stop was QB in the pocket, deciding to tuck it in and run.  He always beat Syracuse defenders to the end… not sure why a run inside the tackles was pondered.  So in many ways Villanova simply lost the game.  And that is how the game gets described: “Syracuse did not lose.”

A win is better than a loss, even if it is not pretty.  But the ugliness is hard to forget.

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6 thoughts on “Syracuse: Does Not Lose

  1. My assessment is not quite as bad. I agree that Villanova lost this game (more than Syracuse won it), that the coaching was suspect, and frankly SU just was not prepared for this game. Give ‘Nova all the credit; they had a game plan (namely keep the offense on the field as long as possible and keep their defense fresh), they stuck to what worked, they made adjustments, and they almost won.

    By contrast, Syracuse had a game plan (dazzle with passes & speed, set up the run, use Hunt’s legs) and aside from the first 3 and out (which was saved for SU by a roughing the kicker penalty that kept the drive alive) we saw the plan starting to take shape. Hunt made some nice throws down the field, PTG had a beautiful TD run, and prior to his ejection, Hunt was starting to look good with his legs. Had he kept his cool, Syracuse likely scores on that drive to go 17-7 in the 2nd quarter, and the dynamic of the game changes greatly.

    Instead, with Hunt’s ejection and no clear game plan for this, SU stalled out and gave VU’s offense every chance to stay in the game. Why the team didn’t switch to power football is beyond me: keep it on the ground and let AAM bowl his way through a smaller d-line. Instead, they relied on bubble screens, etc.. and short passes (many of which were incomplete). The run game that they did employ consisted of giving the ball to the shifty runners George Morris II and Devante McFarlane, and neither were particularly effective.

    As a result, SU’s D got gassed, and was too aggressive trying to get sacks or make big plays. Multiple times down the stretch SU’s defense was too focused on trying to put pressure on Robertson, getting the interception or stripping the ball and lost all fundamentals of making tackles, pressuring a WR, or just containing a QB. I think a huge part of that is losing the senior leadership on D of Bromley and Spruill, but I don’t understand how the d can go against a mobile QB every day in practice and not be able to contain.

    Special Teams was the difference maker. VU’s kicking was bad, but the Poppy Livers run back was impressive. Norton was solid at the FG, and there was only one bad kick-off (out of bounds). Phillips looked good returning, but like the defense, Estime was trying to do too much and almost cost the team a few times. Obviously, both Coaches have solid brass balls for the decisions they made in the 2nd OT. That’s the kind of gutsy, balls-to-the-wall attitude that is often missing in the NFL and makes CFB much more special.

    Credit also to Wilson. All things considered he did a good job and the TD drive to open the 2nd half was nice.

    Fortunately, I think this game was the wake-up call the team needed. The team came out very cocky and expected to push around the Wildcats. I’ve been very critical of bloggers and other commenters that seemed to think this game would be a cake walk based almost exclusively on the final drives against Minny and BC as examples of the SU offense. I’m still confident that this team will finish bowl-eligible, but they need to make some adjustments on defense.

    • Also, let use pray that Al Groh never commentates another Syracuse game…it was brutal. From his bragging about that time UVA beat a GRob team on a last second field goal, to his slurping over Talley and Nova all night long. I actually turned the volume off for most of the 2nd half and OTs (relying on twitter to give me stats & play results).

      • dacuseman on said:

        Again, I couldn’t agree more with you. I thought If Nova had won he would join them as they rushed the field or would al least get a set of pompoms and join the other cheerleaders.

    • I agree more with your assessment of the game. They didn’t play well, but it is skewed a bit by the absence of Hunt.

      And I can’t, for the life of me, understand why that kid didn’t, at least, get flagged or maybe even ejected for the obviously dirty hit on Hunt. Everything that could be wrong with that hit was wrong with it: helmet to helmet contact, contact initiated above the shoulders, torqueing a players neck and the OBVIOUS intent to rip off Hunt’s helmet at the end. Why was there no flag or even discussion about it.

      • The hit on Hunt was hard, but I’m not sure there was intent to rip off his helmet, and correct me if I’m wrong, but at that point Hunt is a runner so the protection he is afforded from the hands-to-the-face as a QB isn’t there. Having said that, I noticed that ‘Nova’s defense was very hard hitting and physical from the jump, and was borderline taking cheap shots…not unlike Scott Shafer’s defenses in the past.

        As I mentioned in our Orange Preview, I expected Villanova to come out very aggressively and figuratively try to “punch SU in the nose”, and I think they did just that. Little did I know that SU would literally try to punch VU in the nose as well.

        Hunt needs to let the Coaches appeal to the refs on that stuff and not let his frustration get the best of him. However, I would’ve gone with the “I was just punching the ground and his facemask got in the way” excuse.

  2. One more thing…I’m either incredibly naive or just overly optimistic, but I think these types of games are much more advantageous for the team to build upon than say a blow-out against Wagner or Delaware.

    It will be very interesting to see how SU comes out against CMU after their bye week, but I suspect the team (and the Coaches) will be a little less cocky and realize that they still have a lot to work on.

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