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Syracuse Shake-up: Is McDonald a Stubborn Goat or a Scape Goat?

There are many great debates in Syracuse football history: Should the #44 have been retired? Was Paul Pasqualoni unfairly fired? Should SU play games in NYC? (Answers: yes, no, yes).

OrangeFizz adds a new one to the mix: Was Head Coach Scott Shafer acting as a leader, or out of desperation? I will go another step further: Was George McDonald just a scapegoat to save Shafer’s ass? 

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The demotion of Offensive Coordinator George McDonald and the promotion of Quarterbacks Coach Tim Lester to play calling duties is an intriguing move that has polarized the Syracuse football community. Many fans look at the offense’s inability to move the ball as a result of George McDonald’s questionable play calling, and are cautiously optimistic for improvement. Other fans, see the play calling as a symptom of a much greater problem and worry if the season is lost. As of yet, there is no answer, however fans should see some clarity in the coming weeks.

For me, I’m squarely in the latter camp. McDonald’s play calling has become suspect, however as evidenced by the Central Michigan game, when it is run effectively his offensive scheme works. When the offense is not clicking, it seems that McDonald is content to just throw any play out there to see what may or may not work. Sometimes we get creative trick plays in the red zone, other times we get questionable passes from the end zone, or trying to send our biggest/slowest RB to the outside. It’s far from perfect, and there is definitely room for improvement.

But it also requires a QB that can make smart decisions, and the past 3 weeks we saw Hunt become more timid with his runs. Against Maryland, Hunt rushed too much and as a result his passes seemed off. Coaches questioned if his running ability was tiring him out. So, he tried staying in the pocket more against Notre Dame and Louisville, but that took away an important dynamic of the offense. There is also the question of how many hits the QB could take, so ironically, the coaches likely dialed down his QB runs as a way to prevent sustaining a season-ending injury.

Ironically, despite not rushing as much and because of a potentially season-ending injury, the QB situation has, for better or worse, forced a change. Not ironically, or perhaps not surprisingly, the coaching staff has no answers as to how they will proceed.

This is the problem. I don’t expect coaches to have all the answers, but we do expect leaders to have a clear vision. This staff actually provides neither. Gone are the days of the previous coach that relied on statistics and data to make decisions. Returning in its place is the folksy Head Coach who gives platitudes and vague answers and that thinks “stats are for losers”.

So it’s a not a shock that despite making a major shake-up in the staff, the coach still seem clueless as to what to do and will continue their trial-by-error approach to coaching.

These issues are systemic and start from the top.

One area for improvement, however is the ability to get plays to the QB faster. We saw against Villanova in particular, and again in the end of the half drive against Louisville, offensive players were visibly frustrated because the calls were not getting delivered fast enough. Perhaps that is a function of McDonald taking too long to call in the plays, and that should be an area of emphasis for Lester.

On the flipside, if the plays were getting called in fast enough, the offense would line-up and have to wait for the Defense to get set before the offense could make a decision as to what to do. I realize that QBs have to make reads, but what is the point of having a hurry-up offense if you’re not going to take advantage of slower defenses?  Having one or two set plays (preferably a power run play) that can keep the defense on their heels would have helped maintain momentum and wear down the defense.

It is entirely possible, the offensive coordinator was simply too in love with his system and his plays.

It’s entirely possible that Tim Lester, who was promoted to the coordinator’s box during games in the middle-of-last season, has been constantly pointing out these adjustments and all of the things that are wrong and McDonald simply refused to make changes. I don’t know either coach, but based on McDonald’s recent interview where he said he would not “make changes for the sake of changing” it is possible that he was being a stubborn old goat.

It is also entirely possible that McDonald is simply the scape goat. Lester and McDonald have known each other for years, dating back to their time at Western Michigan when they had the same positions (McDonald was the OC/WR coach and Lester was the QB coach), and from all indications have a good relationship. Lester, a former QB, should be credited for his work with Hunt last year, however my guess is that the work did not occur in a vacuum and that Lester/McDonald likely discussed and prepared game plans together.

It’s also possible that Lester, given his background as a passing QB, helped to influence the game plan with more bubble screens and short-yard passes. So will this change actually yield better results? We’ll have to wait-and-see…probably not this week, but certainly the week after.

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2 thoughts on “Syracuse Shake-up: Is McDonald a Stubborn Goat or a Scape Goat?

  1. Pingback: Week 7 ACC Preview & Game Thread | The Confidential

  2. At the end of the day, I think George McDonald’s greatest flaw was in-game playcalling… not in designing the offense generally. Plays have been slow to come in all year–suggesting a lack of ability to be one step ahead of the game (i.e. if this works, Play 1, if this does not work, Play 2). Too much reacting. So it goes.

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