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The Confidential

The ACC Sports Blog

The Confidential’s Take on Syracuse’s Loss to USF

If you are a Syracuse fan, you know that Syracuse lost to South Florida yesterday, 45-24.  If you are not a Syracuse fan, you will look at the score, smirk, and realize that Syracuse is a long way from being nationally relevant.  This is not a knock on Syracuse necessarily, as Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and other decent programs are in the same boat this year.  Frankly, Miami has been in the same boat as long as Syracuse.  But, for Syracuse, the loss shows that it may be premature to ask for time off for a bowl game this year.  And here are the Confidential’s other thoughts on the game.

#1. The positives.  Eric Dungey and Jordan Fredericks are true freshmen playmakers.  Imagine a better offensive line!  If these two players continue to improve and stay healthy, this may be the best QB/RB tandem at Syracuse in a long, long time.

#2. The defense.  Syracuse defenses under Scott Shafer are better than they were under G-Rob.  Syracuse defenses under Scott Shafer are most exciting–forcing more turnovers and generating more sacks.  But that’s about it.  If an opposing team has competent coaching and a QB that stays cool, the opponent can move the ball at will.  Just take a look at the completion percentages by QB the past few years.  The defense puts DBs on an island and hopes that it can pressure the QB into a mistake.  For some college QBs it will work.  For most, it will not work.  If/when Syracuse has a very good assortment of experienced defensive players, it can overcome talent on the other side of the ball.  Where, as with this year, there is youth and perhaps slightly less talent, it can get ugly.  And that is how a USF team averaging 16 PPG could score 45 on this defense.  Nothing surprising here.

#3.  Fundamentals.  In the end, football can be a very simple game.  Blocking and tackling.  If you have great run blocking, how good does your running back need to be?  If you have good pass blocking, that is more time for the QB to find an open WR, and even a low-talent receiving corps will eventually get open.  If you can tackle the ball carrier, good things happen.  If you cannot tackle, then it takes more defenders to stop a play.  Blocking and tackling.  This Syracuse team is not particularly good at blocking and tackling.  That needs to improve or this season will not involve a bowl game.  End of story.

#4.  USF.  With all due credit to South Florida, they were 1-3 entering this game.  This was a non-P5 game on the OOC slate.  For those who assert that Syracuse schedules too tough, this game was a step in the right direction–a #2 OOC game against a team that was at least winnable.  Except that Syracuse did not win.  The end result is 2-2 OOC, which is just not good enough.  Apparently, the team needs to schedule even lighter–with a team like USF on the road being the toughest opponent.  This is disappointing.  The lost momentum from three wins and a well-played loss against LSU is gone now.  Syracuse was set up for a great season and said “no thank you.”

#5.  Scott Shafer.  It is hard to NOT like Scott Shafer.  At the same time, think real hard… can you think of games where the coaches have out-coached the opponent?  Quite the contrary, there are have been a number of victories under Shafer that are head scratching:

  • Villanova, 2014.  This FCS opponent took Syracuse to the wire, with only a missed chipshot FG even allowing the game to get to overtime.
  • Wake Forest, 2014.  John Woolford goes 30 for 45, passing for nearly 400 yards.  The difference was turnovers and two big plays.
  • Central Michigan, 2015.  Allowed 520 yards of offense to a MAC opponent, whose QB was an amazing 37 for 51.  The difference?  Turnovers and a nice drive in overtime.

Did any of those three wins feel like Syracuse had the better coaching staff or just the more opportunistic team?

That being said, Tim Lester has greatly improved the offense.  Between him and Dungey (or even Mahoney), this team can move the ball and score 20+ points every game.  The question is whether that is good enough with a defense that can allow 45 to USF?  And it is not like Lester does not have head scratching moments also… i.e. running the option with Ben Lewis on 3rd and short or trying a wheel route to the 4th string RB.  But that is it for bright spots.

Conclusion.  The ACC is bad enough this year that wins against Virginia, North Carolina State, Boston College, Pitt, and Louisville are not impossible.  The latter two seem unlikely though.  This means that there is no margin for error against the first three.  And the first of those three is next week.  A desperate Virginia team that may be playing for its head coach–not unlike USF. Everyone will learn next week whether this Syracuse team peaked in Week #4 or can make a bowl.

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2 thoughts on “The Confidential’s Take on Syracuse’s Loss to USF

  1. Can’t disagree with any of this.

    With the exception of 2012, in which everything seemed to work well, Syracuse alternates between being a defensive team or an offensive team. In some cases, it’s neither but seldom is it both.

    2014 the offense was anemic, but the defense kept SU in a lot of games.

    Going into the season, we knew that the amount of talent on the defensive side that was graduating (or leaving early) was going to leave behind a young/inexperienced defense was a liability. Getting another year out of Eskridge would have made a difference defensively, but fortunately, the experience and talent on the offensive side of the ball should be able to compensate for a lackluster defense. I’m fine with that this year, but you cannot come-out flat like SU did.

    Its understood that Dungey would be a little rusty, or even gun shy of getting hit again (and no one could blame him). So I’m willing to give them a pass on this game; but there is no way it can be repeated again this season. But I was unimpressed with Lester’s first half play calling; too many option plays, need more play action, bootlegs, etc.. I love, love, loved the call by USF with the double-reverse-flea flicker and would like to see that as part of the offensive playbook at some point.

    In Shafer’s defense, I don’t think he had any boneheaded calls or questionable timeouts. Although the one he called in the 2nd half was inconsequential in the end, you do have to wonder how effective his defensive TO’s are if the team scores a TD on the very next play.

    I liked his ballsy call with the fake FG. That is the kind of hard-nosed coaching that everyone expects from a guy like Shafer, so more of that please.

    As I said on twitter, and as you said above, a bowl game is still very well within reach, but the margin of error here-on-out is getting smaller and smaller. If the offense gets in a rhythm, this could have shades of 2012 Nassib-Lemon-Sales-Smith-PTG, etc… which could be very exciting for the program.

  2. A couple of things that I noticed in the game, the Cuse defense didn’t swarm the ball like they did against LSU & those late penalties really hurt. Why hit a WR out of bounds after the ball had already sailed over his head & way out of bounds? Cuse was building momentum at that point & looked to be headed for a comeback. That penalty was on 4th down & Cuse would’ve gotten the ball back down only 7.

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