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Syracuse Football Season on Life Support

In football, there can be such a thin line between winning and losing. As the Syracuse football team has found out on a number of occasions this season, the plays that decide a game don’t always happen at the end of games; they can happen at anytime. In the Orange’s third game of the season, Terrel Hunt threw a pick-six in the red zone late in the 2nd quarter, creating a 14-point turnaround and turning what could have been a four-point halftime deficit into an 18-point deficit in a game Syracuse lost by 14 points. The Orange fell victim to similar circumstances in their most recent loss, as Syracuse looked poised to extend their lead to either eight or 12 points over N.C. State before a pick-six thrown by A.J. Long halted the Orange’s momentum and handed the Wolf Pack the lead, and ultimately the game.

Those are the two defining plays of the 2014 Syracuse football season. They turned a possible win against Maryland and a probable win against N.C. State into two Syracuse losses. Those two plays are also prime examples of how the Syracuse offense is solely responsible for the teams losing record this season. On those two plays the Orange offense gave away touchdowns to their opponents without giving the Syracuse defensive the opportunity to stop them; a Syracuse defense that has surpassed pre-season expectations and done everything in its power to give the team a chance to win in nearly every game this season, despite receiving little support from the offense. In fact, in Syracuse’s three wins this season, the Syracuse defense has only allowed three touchdowns, while also scoring three touchdowns and recording a safety, which shows just how one-sided the Orange have been this season, even in their victories.

With the propensity of the Orange offense to give games away and their continued inability throughout the season to take advantage of a hard-working defense or capitalize on the takeaways created by the Orange defense, the Syracuse football season is officially on life support. What has been a disappointing and frustrating season to watch unfold can only be salvaged by Syracuse winning its last three games in order to reach 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game. Based on the way the team has played throughout the season, specifically its inability to win competitive games against teams of comparable talent, there’s little hope that the Orange can all of a sudden catch fire and win three in a row. Even head coach Scott Shafer used the word “miracle” to describe the prospect of his team winning its last three games and reaching a bowl game.

Despite Shafer’s optimism after every loss this season and his excitement at the challenge of winning three straight games to close out the season, his use of the word “miracle” speaks to how seemingly hopeless the situation is in which Syracuse finds itself. Shafer’s constant enthusiasm has also masked the fact that he has simply not had the answers necessary to get the Orange’s season turned around. This makes it hard to believe he’ll find those answers in time to save Syracuse’s season, as the Orange’s bowl hopes may very well die on the Carrier Dome turf this week against Duke, a loss which would cap off an embarrassing 1-5 home campaign.

Of course, three wins in three games is possible for any football team, and there are things the Orange can do to put themselves on the right side of the thin line that separates winning and losing. Even one or two wins over the final three games would give Syracuse a better taste in their mouth heading into the offseason and a bit more optimism for the future, especially considering the injuries the team has suffered and all the young players that have been forced into action. But coming up a win or two shy of a bowl game would also make the Orange kick themselves all offseason at the times they found a way to lose a game instead of finding a way to win a game. It’s that small collection of game-deciding plays that has caused the Syracuse football season to be put on life support heading into the final three games, needing a miracle to survive.

5 Things Syracuse Must Do In November To Make A Bowl Game

The results have not been what the Syracuse football team was hoping for this season, but it certainly looks as though the team has started to turn a corner in recent weeks. The Orange have had hard-fought losses against Florida State and Clemson sandwiched around a comfortable win against Wake Forest, but now is the time when Syracuse needs actual wins and not just competitive losses against better teams. At 3-5, Syracuse needs to win at least three of its final four games in order to reach a bowl game and avoid taking a step backward after all the progress forward made under Doug Marrone and Scott Shafer over the past few seasons. In order to get to a bowl game, here are five things the Orange must do over their final four games.
Win at home – Syracuse has not played well at home this season, going just 1-3 and barely beating Villanova in the season opener, but that needs to change. The Orange play their next two games at home and they have to win them both. N.C. State is a team Syracuse should beat on any field, and there will be no excuse for not doing so inside the Carrier Dome. Duke will be a much tougher opponent, but if the Orange defense can continue to play well, Syracuse will have a good shot to spring an upset at home. If the Orange can take care of business at home, they’ll be in a position where winning one of two road games in the final two weeks of the season will be enough to go bowling, and that’s not a bad position to be in considering everything that has happened this season.
Get healthy and stay healthy – Syracuse has been a bit unlucky with the injury bug this year, as they don’t have the depth on their roster to survive so many injuries. Ashton Broyld returned against Clemson and made some nice contributions, but Brisly Estime’s return from the injured list was brief, and the Orange are still without key players like Ivan Foy, Wayne Morgan, Wayne Williams, and Terrel Hunt, while a few others are playing through minor injuries. The Orange need to avoid any more injuries to key players and hope they can get a boost over the final month of the season from players returning from the injured list, as it could give them the boost they need to get to a bowl game.
Keep the takeaways coming – The Orange defense has created 15 takeaways over the last five games, and that needs to continue over the final month if Syracuse is going to make a bowl. The Syracuse offense is just not capable of winning games by itself, so the defense is going to have to carry the team on their back, and that means creating takeaways and scoring defensive touchdowns, something Syracuse has done four times this season. If the turnovers keep coming, the Orange will have a shot, but if the Syracuse defense can’t keep it going, there’s no way the Orange will score enough points to win three games in November.
Stay open minded at quarterback – It’d be great if there were clarity at the quarterback position heading down the stretch, but there’s not and Syracuse needs to remain open to all options. A.J. Long has shown promise, but he needs to continue to prove that he gives the team the best chance to win right now. If Hunt comes back healthy, he may be their best option, while Austin Wilson and Mitch Kimble may have something to contribute as well. Even if Syracuse has to rotate all four quarterbacks, they have to be open minded to finding something that works at the quarterback position.
Fix the issues in the red zone – The Orange offense has been atrocious in the red zone this season, and they have four games left to fix their issues. The four teams Syracuse will face are somewhat comparable in overall talent, at least to compared to most of the teams they faced over the last six weeks, but they’re not going to win three games with field goals and defensive touchdowns. At times, the Orange offense has been capable of moving the ball between the 20’s, but if they can’t find the end zone once they get inside 20, they’ll be watching bowl season from home this year.

Changes Syracuse Must Make To Beat Notre Dame

It’s difficult to have a strong reaction to Syracuse’s loss to Maryland. The Orange outgained the Terrapins by an astounding 220 yards, yet walked out of the Carrier Dome two-touchdown losers. Two turnovers and two long touchdowns given up by the Syracuse defense were too much to overcome in a game that Syracuse controlled otherwise. Of course, despite any positives the Orange can take away, the game is still a loss for Syracuse, who must bounce back quickly for its showdown with Notre Dame this week. The Orange have plenty to build upon after the Maryland game, but here is what Syracuse needs to fix if they’re going to pull off the upset over the Fighting Irish.
First, win the turnover battle. A negative turnover differential cost the Orange dearly against Maryland, and it’s not something they’ll be able to overcome against the Irish. Outside of a strip-and-score play against Central Michigan, the Syracuse defense has yet to force a turnover this season, which is a trend that needs to change if the Orange are going to spring an upset. Obviously, Terrel Hunt needs to take care of the ball and avoid mental errors that lead to turnovers like the costly pick-six he threw against Maryland, but the Syracuse defense also needs to prove that they can force turnovers. Being even in turnovers isn’t going to cut it against Notre Dame; by any means necessary, Syracuse needs to have a positive turnover margin against Notre Dame.
Second, the Syracuse offense must finish drives. How does a team rack up 589 yards of offense but only walk away with 20 points? They don’t finish off drives. This was a trend for the Orange against Maryland and a big part of their downfall. Syracuse moved the ball with ease, but more times than not hit a wall when they got within striking distance of the end zone. The Orange hurt themselves with penalties and a lack of execution on 3rd down, which took away potential scoring chances. Syracuse can’t expect to move the ball as easily against Notre Dame as it did against Maryland, so when they have opportunities to put points on the board, they have to find the end zone, especially since place kicker Ryan Norton can’t be trusted to make field goals, even from a reasonable distance.
Next, play bend but don’t break defense. As a whole, the Syracuse defense performed well against Maryland, as they did what they could to keep the Orange in the game throughout the second half. The lone issue they had was giving up the big play, specifically on Maryland’s two 1st quarter touchdowns. Notre Dame is also capable of springing the big play, which is something Syracuse has to prevent. The Orange can bend, but they can’t break against the Irish, and they must force Everett Golson to lead Notre Dame on long drives instead of quick strikes. If Syracuse can keep everything in front of them, they’ll stand a better chance of creating situations when they can blitz and unleash their pass rush, which is one of the biggest strengths of the Orange defense.
Finally, be accurate in the passing game. Hunt ran the ball brilliantly against Maryland, but his passing was not nearly as accurate as it was against Central Michigan. Far too many of Hunt’s passes were thrown behind his intended receiver, and a few more were thrown over the head of his receiver. Despite accumulating nearly 600 yards of offense, the Orange could have done so much more if Hunt had been more accurate with his passes. Obviously, Hunt is a huge key to Syracuse being able to pull off an upset, and completing 50% of his passes, as he did against Maryland, isn’t going to be enough. Hunt will certainly make plays with his legs, but he’ll also need to be a proficient and accurate thrower and be a true dual-threat quarterback if Syracuse is going to have a chance to beat Notre Dame.

Ranking Syracuse's Opponents on 2014 Football Schedule

The college football offseason is about to reach its unceremonious conclusion, as it’s officially game week. For the Syracuse Orange, the season starts Friday night with a home game against Villanova. It will be the first game in what many believe to be one of the tougher schedules in the ACC, which is why Scott Shafer set expectations for the season at just eight wins, and not a more ambitious number like 10. To get an idea of just how difficult the schedule Syracuse will play in 2014 is, here is a ranking of the 12 opponents the Orange will have this season.
12. Villanova – Like it or not, just about every power conference team plays an FCS school at some point in the season, although it would have been tough for Syracuse to schedule a better one than Villanova. The Wildcats will be the easiest team Syracuse plays this year, but they’ve had a winning record in seven or the last eight seasons, including an FCS national championship in 2009, so they’re far from a pushover. After giving Boston College problems in the season opener last year, Villanova could challenge the Orange and keep the game close for at least two or three quarters.
11. Wake Forest – The Orange shutout Wake Forest in the Carrier Dome last year, and the Demon Deacons could be even worse this year, as they’ll have a new head coach, a new quarterback, and no apparent replacement for their top offensive playmaker, Michael Campanaro. Obviously, there are no guarantees going on the road, but this is a game Syracuse should win easily.
10. N.C. State – N.C. State should be better than they were last season, especially if Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett provides an answer at quarterback. But in the second year of a rebuilding project under Dave Doren, they shouldn’t be improved enough to win in the Carrier Dome if the Orange play their best, especially after Syracuse handled them last year. The Wolf Pack may not role over, but at home, this is a game in which the Orange should be able to take care of business.
9. Central Michigan – A road game against Central Michigan is going to be tougher than people think. The Chippewas carry some momentum into 2014 after winning five of their last seven games in 2013, and they have a team that could compete for a spot in the MAC Championship Game this season. With Scott Shafer and much of the coaching staff having a history in the MAC, the Orange won’t be taking this team lightly, which should help them get off to a 2-0 start.
8. Boston College – Steve Addazio did a great job of turning the Eagles around last year and getting them to a bowl game in his first season in Chestnut Hill, but B.C. is due to take a step back this year. The Eagles have to replace quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams, and wide receiver Alex Amidon, and those three provided most of the offense last season. The Eagles will be looking for redemption after the Orange stole last year’s meeting in the Carrier Dome in the last minute, but this is a winnable road game for Syracuse to close out the regular season.
7. Maryland – This won’t be the same Maryland team that the Orange handled last season in College Park, especially on offense, where the Terrapins were missing several key players due to injury for much of 2013. The Syracuse secondary should be challenged in this game, as this matchup should produce a few more points than last season’s game between the Orange and Terrapins did.
6. Pittsburgh – Syracuse and Pittsburgh always seem to play close, hard-fought games; Big East style games if you will. A single point has decided each of the last two meetings between these teams, although Syracuse has just one win in the series since 2004. The Orange will be making their first trip to Pittsburgh since 2011, so the Panthers will be excited to avoid seeing the Carrier Dome this season, while Syracuse needs to work on evening this series out in a late-season game that could go either way and will have great importance for both teams.
5. Louisville – The Orange pulled off a major upset the last time the Cardinals came to the Carrier Dome, and while Louisville probably won’t be a top-10 team this time around, Syracuse will most likely be a home underdog. Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong are both gone, so this will be a much different team from the one Syracuse dominated in 2012, but there’s still a lot of talent on the Louisville roster, and this isn’t exactly Bobby Petrino’s first rodeo. Louisville is probably the more talented team, but a Friday night game in the Carrier Dome could help to balance things out a bit and give Syracuse another shot to upset the Cardinals.
4. Duke – Duke football is a laughing stock no more, as David Cutcliffe has turned things around, and even took the Blue Devils to the ACC Championship Game last season. Like Syracuse, Duke is one of the few teams in the ACC that returns its starting quarterback, which should help put the Blue Devils in the mix to win the ACC Coastal and return to the conference title game. Syracuse should get some advantage from playing at home in this game, but the Blue Devils are one of the more talented ACC teams the Orange will play this season, especially on offense.
3. Notre Dame – Syracuse may be New York’s college team, but with Notre Dame’s fan base, playing in the Meadowlands will be a de-factor road game for the Orange against a pre-season top-25 team. The loss of a few key players to suspension could open the door for Syracuse just a little to pull off the upset. However, there should be no mistaking the fact that the Irish are the more talented team and will be considerable favorites. If nothing else, this game is a good early-season barometer to see how the Orange stack up with a top-25 team.
2. Clemson – There may be no more intimidating venue in the ACC than Clemson’s Death Valley. Syracuse won’t have to contend with the combination of Tajh Boy and Sammy Watkins that torched them last year, but Dabo Swinney still has a roster that’s far more talented than the one Scott Shafer will bring down south with him. The Orange will have a realistic chance to win most of their road games, but this is by far the toughest away game of the season.
1. Florida State – On paper, you might as well mark this down as a loss for the Orange. You never want to completely eliminate the possibility of an upset inside the Carrier Dome, as it’s been done before, but this is a game in which Syracuse will have to play perfect just to be within striking distance in the 4th quarter against the best team in the ACC and a team that many favor to repeat as national champions.