Tag Archives: Scott Shafer

Big Ten Links: How The Hell Do I Compete With Last Night?

Well, last night was a hell of a college basketball game. Neither team in the final is a member of the Big Ten, but congrats to Villanova and North Carolina for playing a national final that everyone will remember for probably the rest of their lives.

For those of you into One Shining Moment, this is your moment of zen:

Harvey Perlman still hates Pelini; living in 2014

Remember Bo Pelini? He isn’t a fan of his old boss Harvey Perlman at Nebraska and apparently Perlman isn’t a fan of Pelini’s either. Perlman is retiring and when giving his final speech as chancellor of Nebraska-Lincoln, he couldn’t resist taking a shot at the former football coach:

“I’m not going to do a Bo Pelini.”

The audience laughed.

“Do you know what a Bo Pelini is?” Perlman continued. “It is defined in the urban dictionary as an expletive-laced rant expressing outrage on leaving a position you didn’t want anyway.

“Not going to do it.”

Bo Pelini is certainly in the right if someone asks him about his time at Nebraska and his relationship with Perlman, but Perlman is not in the right if he writes this into his speech. At some point, typically after like age 45, it’s time to be the bigger man and at least pretend you’re going to move on.

How do you leave your job after four months?

Ever start a new job and you hate it so much you can’t make it through probation? Apparently, that’s why Maryland’s defensive coordinator Scott Shafer is leaving the program after four months. Shafer cited personal reasons as the need for his departure, so I certainly hope all is right in his personal world, but is this the start of a troubling trend for new head coach DJ Durkin and the Terrapins? Hope not. After the disaster that was Randy Edsall the Terrapins cannot go back to anything resembling that nonsense.

Durkin and company have already answered the next question, ‘who will replace Shafer?’ If your answer was Kentucky special team’s coordinator Andy Buh, then you win $1,000. Buh leaving an SEC perennial bottom-feeder is good for him and hopefully a stabilizing force for Maryland. Good luck.

The Kahki King held his second Spring Game

It’s hard to believe it is time for spring football, but here we are. Michigan’s game was last Saturday and in a surprising and interesting move the Wolverine’s held the game at night. I have to imagine this is the first year the game was held at night as Michigan Stadium has only had lights for about five years, so this change is quite refreshing.

I’m not an X’s and O’s type of guy, but Tom Dienart of the Big Ten Network is, and here are his four observations from that game:

  1. It looks like Wilton Speight—yes, Wilton Speight—has emerged as the leader in the quarterback race to replace Jake Rudock.
  2. Running back Ty Isaac looks good.
  3. The defense looks VERY good.
  4. Michigan will have one of the best collections of tight ends in the Big Ten.

If you want more sights and sounds, ESPN’s Dan Murphy has you covered. Here are the Wolverine’s leaving the field after the game:

I really hope the Big Ten choses a television partner not named ESPN

I know the chances of the Big Ten signing a television deal with any network that isn’t ESPN is between slim and none, but I wish at the very least they’d consider all the possibilities. In my opinion, NBC offers the conference the best exposure for not only its mainline football and basketball games, but the broadcast network along with NBC Sports can augment those two sports as well as the non-revenue and Olympic sports. If NBC isn’t a viable option, again to me, the second best option is FOX. FOX is already a partner with the Big Ten in the Big Ten Network, so that relationship is built, but I think the Big Ten deserves its own place to shine. FOX also the primary broadcaster of Pac-12 games.

Do I think the conference should completely abandon ESPN? Of course not, but ESPN has primary rights or secondary rights holders’ agreements with every other Power Five conference and the Big Ten can shift some exposure in its favor by moving to NBC or FOX.

The Big Ten’s only big competition at NBC? Notre Dame.

E-mail Damien at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.

Photo: Larry/Flickr.

A look at Maryland’s coach hiring spree

The University of Maryland football program continued their offseason coach hiring spree last week, bringing in Arkansas State’s Walt Bell as offensive coordinator. Since the conclusion of Maryland’s horrendous 2015 season, the program has completely gutted and revitalized every significant position of the coaching staff, starting with the hiring of D.J. Durkin on December 2 to be the Terps’ next head coach. The complete staff overhaul is exciting, and comes as welcome change from the previous regime under Randy Edsall that only oscillated between mediocrity and comically awful for half a decade. With that in mind, I took a look at each new coaching hire and assigned each a grade based up the individual’s past success and potential for future success with Maryland.

D.J. Durkin, Head Coach

The University of Maryland and Athletic Director Kevin Anderson hired Durkin just four days following the conclusion of their 2015 season. An analysis of the Durkin hire itself would of course have to include his subsequent coaching hires. While I initially felt somewhat ambivalent about the university brining him in, Durkin has hired an all-star coaching staff of sorts, bolstering my opinion of his hiring and my hopes for the future of this program.

Despite comments by the Athletic Director and University President that the Terps would be seeking an offensive-minded head coach that could instill a “wide-open offense” (University President Wallace Loh even publicly dropped Chip Kelly’s name), the Terps went with Durkin, a defensive coordinator from the University of Michigan. While the Terps needed to shore up their defense, the offense was unquestionably the primary concern, leading to my original hesitancy of the hire.

Durkin had obvious success prior to coming to Maryland, as he played a large role in turning a football program around into becoming nationally relevant, and is an excellent defensive mind. What concerned me at first, however, is that those very same things were said of Randy Edsall before he arrived in College Park in 2011.

However, Durkin’s track record is still impressive, and he is considered to have one of the best young defensive minds in the game. He played a significant role in turning the Wolverines’ program around, as the team boasted one of the most prominent defenses in the country in 2015. While Michigan’s players are more talented than those of the Terps at this stage, I have faith that Durkin can bring those same winning ways to Maryland. He’s not the big name many were initially speculating could be taking over as head coach, but he appears to be a great hire for the Terps.
Grade: A-

Scott Shafer, Defensive Coordinator

Durkin hired Scott Shafer, the former defensive coordinator and head coach at Syracuse, on December 8. Durkin and Shafer previously coached together at Stanford; Durkin coached special teams and defensive ends, while Shafer served as the defensive coordinator. Shafer was the defensive coordinator for a number of teams over the past 15 years, including  Northern Illinois (2000–03), Western Michigan (2005-06), Stanford (2007), Michigan (2008), and Syracuse (2009–12). After previous Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone left the Orange to coach the Buffalo Bills of the NFL, Shafer was promoted to head coach after the 2012 season. After three seasons as Syracuse’s head coach, Shafer was relieved of his duties after posting an overall record of 14–23. In 2015, Shafer was faced with a large rebuilding project for the Syracuse defense, which finished the season ranked 96th out of 128 FBS Division I teams in points per game scored by their opponents (~33.8; the Terps ranked 102nd allowing ~35.6 points per game). While his duties were specifically relegated to being a defensive coordinator between 2007 and 2012, Shafer’s defenses allowed an average of about 27 points per game. His best season came in 2010-11, when the Orange allowed only 20.9 points per contest. Hopefully the collective defensive minds of Durkin and Shafer can turn a Maryland defense that has some very talented individual parts into a solid team unit.
Grade: B

Walt Bell, Offensive Coordinator

Durkin made his most recent hire on December 19, bringing Walt Bell on board to serve as the Terps’ offensive coordinator. Bell was the assistant head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach at Arkansas State, and directed a Red Wolves offense that scored nearly 40 points per game in 2015. He runs an up-tempo offense, one much closer the “wide-open offense” President Wallace Loh alluded to at the conclusion of the Terps’ season. Though the defenses Arkansas State faced in the Sun Belt conference are surely not quite of the same quality of those Bell will face in the Big Ten, he brings a style of play that undeniably comes as a welcome change from the dink-and-dunk, bubble screens, and predictable running plays the Maryland “offense” has centered around for the last five seasons.

In 2015, Maryland threw an average of 2.5 interceptions per game, good for 128th of 128 FBS Division I college football teams. Only one other team finished the year with more than two interceptions thrown per game. Maryland led all FBS Division I with 3.2 total turnovers per game. The Terps finished near the bottom in other related categories, such as 99th out of completions per game (15.5), passing yards per game (177.6), yards per pass attempt (5.3), and total offensive points per game (approximately 21.3).

And as long as four-star quarterback and local product Dwayne Haskins doesn’t flip his verbal commit to stay home and play for the Terps, the thought of him running the offense with Maryland’s returning receiving corps, as well as a few newcomers including four-star wide receiver Tino Ellis, is something every Terrapin fan should be thrilled about.
Grade: A+

Mike London, associate head coach

In one of the more surprising hires, at least to me, Durkin and the Terps hired former Virginia Cavalier head coach Mike London to be an associate head coach. London was fired by Virginia after five seasons, the most recent ending in a 4-8 overall record. London will help on the recruiting trail as well, as he has close ties within the Mid-Atlantic region. Though the Cavaliers went 27-46 during his five seasons with the program, he is certainly a big get for a program looking to widen their recruiting area as much as possible.
Grade: A

Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, defensive backs coach

In perhaps the most underrated hire for Durkin and the Terps, Abdul-Rahim was brought in to coach Maryland’s defensive backs. Abdul-Rahim is a Washington, D.C. native and led Friendship Collegiate Academy in D.C. into becoming a local powerhouse. Because of such deep-rooted football ties to the area, he will bring an even stronger recruiting presence to the Terrapins’ football program. He was previously hired by Alabama and Nick Saban in a player personnel/defensive analyst role. He will help bring the talent to Maryland, or in many cases, help keep it in the state.
Grade: A+

Sneak Peek At 2015 Syracuse Football Season

It was a long and trying season for the Syracuse Orange football team in 2014, but it’s finally over. To its credit, the Orange defense stood tall all season and deserved so much better than the support provided by the Syracuse offense, a unit that was decimated by injuries, making it difficult to generate anything substantial all season. There’s not much the Orange can do but chalk up a 3-9 season to an inordinate amount of injuries and hope for better fortune next season. With 2014 officially over for Syracuse, here’s a position-by-position preview of what to expect from the Orange in 2015.

 

Quarterback – Syracuse could have a rather interesting quarterback battle during spring practice after freshmen A.J. Long, Austin Wilson, and Mitch Kimble all saw the field this season following the season-ending injury to Terrel Hunt. Incoming freshman Alin Edouard could also become a factor in a wide-open quarterback competition this spring. Of course, none of the Syracuse freshmen played particularly well during the second half of the season, so the job should still be Hunt’s lose when he gets healthy, although he’ll certainly have some competitors to fend off if he expects to start in 2015.

 

Running back – The Orange will lose Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore, but they have the depth at running back to survive those losses. George Morris and Devante McFarlane have seen some action the past two seasons and will now have a chance to play prominent roles, and both should be ready. Ervin Phillips should also be featured prominently in the Syracuse backfield next season after a promising freshman campaign. If those three aren’t enough, the Orange have a few incoming freshmen that should be able to provide additional depth at the running back spot.

 

Wide receiver – This position still isn’t an area of strength for Syracuse, but there’s enough at this position to feel optimistic once the Orange get healthy. Steve Ishmael had a few flashes of brilliance as a true freshman this year, and he could form a formidable trio next season alongside Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime, two players who missed most of 2014 with injuries. In addition to those three, Ben Lewis brings a reliable set of hands to the table, while Alvin Cornelius and Sean Avant are both players who could carve out bigger roles in 2015. Syracuse also has a couple of young receivers with great size in Jamal Custis and Adly Enoicy who could become factors in the passing game in 2015.

 

Offensive line – This unit needs to be a lot better next season, and while they may benefit from getting healthy and giving a lot of players experience in 2014, they’ll also lose left tackle Sean Hickey and center John Miller. Jason Emerich figures to step in at center, and there are three good options at the two guard spots with Rob Trudo, Nick Robinson, and Omari Palmer, who are all experienced players. However, Hickey leaves a huge hole on the left side, and the Orange will need younger players to show improvement and push older players for starting spots, as they need to build more depth up front and create a much stronger and consistent offensive line in 2015.

 

Defensive line – Three starters players are gone from this unit in tackle Eric Crume and ends Micah Robinson and Rob Welsh, but the Orange front-four is in relatively good shape. Syracuse retains some size in the middle with Wayne Williams, John Raymon, and Marcus Coleman, which may enable them to move Ron Thompson back to defensive end, where he has the athleticism to be an impact pass rusher. Syracuse will need to get more out of Isaiah Johnson and Donnie Simmons on the outside, while redshirt freshman Chris Slayton could be a player to watch at defensive end. It’ll be a rebuilding year up front with the loss of Crume, Robinson, and Welsh, but Syracuse should have enough to put together a solid defensive line.

 

Linebacker – Replacing both Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis seems like an impossible task, but the Syracuse linebacker corps may not necessarily take a big step backwards. Zaire Franklin was impressive late in the season and appears to have the tools to play middle linebacker, which will allow Marque Hodge to move outside linebacker after a solid sophomore season in the middle. The Orange may also be able to get an extra year of eligibility from Luke Arciniega to help complete its starting lineup. If not, both Jonathan Thomas and Parris Bennett both saw the field as true freshman in 2014, which should have them ready to play bigger roles in 2015, while redshirt freshman Colton Moskal and a few incoming freshmen could be in the mix as well, giving Syracuse plenty of options to rebuild its depth at the linebacker position.

 

Secondary – This unit could have some issues, as the Orange will lose cornerback Brandon Reddish and safeties Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir. If Durrell Eskridge leaves early for the NFL, the Syracuse secondary will be filled with youth and inexperience in 2015. The Orange will have a few cornerbacks with experience coming back in Julian Whigham and Wayne Morgan, while Antwan Cordy and Corey Winfield saw some action later in the season. However, without Edkridge, the Orange will have no experience at safety outside of special teams contributions from Chauncey Scissum and Rodney Williams. This could prompt moving Morgan safety if Scott Shafer feels his young cornerbacks are ready for bigger roles, but either way the Orange may need a few true freshmen to contribute in the secondary next year.

 

Overall – Despite a 3-9 record, the Syracuse defense played well throughout 2014, but it’s unrealistic to think they can play at the same level in 2015 after the loss of seven, possibly eight, starters. There is enough talent to give the Orange a solid defense, but experience could be an issue, as could depth, making Syracuse vulnerable to injuries on that side of the ball. This puts a lot of pressure on the Orange offense to get healthy and come back strong in 2015. The Orange should have the skill players to move the ball effectively, assuming they can effectively sort out a potentially complicated situation at quarterback. But how good the Orange offense will be in 2015, and how good the Orange are as a team in 2015, could be dependent on whether or not the offensive line can show substantial improvement.

Injuries Are An Excuse For Syracuse

With its loss to Duke on Saturday, bowl hopes in 2014 for the Syracuse football team officially came to an end. Despite his obvious frustration, head coach Scott Shafer isn’t making excuses for why his team has failed to make a bowl game and why they fell short of the pre-season goal of eight wins. Shafer’s players aren’t making excuses either for why they’ll play their final two games of the season without an opportunity to reach a bowl game. But there is an obvious reason why the Orange has played hard week after week only to end up with a 3-7 record with two games remaining, and it’s the injuries the team has suffered through all season long. Coaches and players will never use injuries as an excuse, but I will, because the injuries the Orange have suffered this season are far more than a program like Syracuse is capable of surviving.

The most obvious position that has suffered meaningful injuries for the Orange is quarterback. Granted, Terrel Hunt did not look sharp throwing the ball the first month of the season, but there was always the chance he would start to make meaningful progress as a quarterback over the course of the season. More to the point, the Syracuse offense has missed Hunt’s experience and running ability throughout the course of the season, as the Orange have been forced to play a trio of freshmen in his absence.

Hunt’s presence may have made a meaningful difference in Syracuse’s loss to Clemson, as opposed to playing true freshman A.J. Long against one of the best defenses in the country in one of the toughest road venues in the country. Hunt’s experience would have made him better suited to play such a difficult game than Long, and his great instincts leaving the pocket and making plays with his legs could have helped to neutralize Clemson’s pass rush in a game where a Syracuse touchdown at any point in the first three quarters would have given the Orange a great opportunity to spring an upset. Hunt also could have been a difference maker in the Orange’s close loss to N.C. State, where a pick-six by the inexperienced Long was the deciding factor. With additional injuries to Long and Austin Wilson, when the Orange reached must-win territory against Duke, they were relying on fourth-string quarter Mitch Kimble to lead them to victory, which is not a recipe for success for any team.

Of course, more damaging than the injuries at quarterback are the injuries Syracuse has suffered along the offensive line. The Orange have been forced to play 10 different offensive linemen this season and have rarely been able to keep the same five players on the field together for long periods of time, making it hard to find consistency and cohesion up front. Even the linemen that have managed to stay on the field for Syracuse have battled nagging injuries and not been at their best. Without a healthy and strong offensive line, Syracuse has not been able to establish a consistent rushing attack, which they were expecting to be the strength of their offense this year. With a makeshift offensive line, they’ve also struggled to protect their quarterbacks, which has contributed to some of the injuries at that position.

Without the type of running game they were expecting, Syracuse has been more reliant on their passing game, which has also struggled due to injuries to two of its best receivers, Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime. Broyld was productive early in the season, but he’s missed six of the last seven games due to injury. Estime suffered an ankle injury during training camp, and while he made a few important catches over the first month of the season, he re-aggravated the injury twice, making him a non-factor for most of the season. Jarrod West and Steve Ishmael have both had nice seasons, with Ben Lewis becoming a productive player as well, but Syracuse was hoping to get breakout seasons from both Broyld and Estime, and injuries to both players has changed the complexion of the offense by taking away two of their top playmakers.

It may be difficult to believe by looking at their 3-7 record, but Syracuse is an average team. However, average teams are rarely capable of surviving the rash of injuries the Orange have experienced in 2014, especially when most come on one side of the ball. To the credit of Shafer and his team, they have continued to fight hard week after week and not used injuries as an excuse, even though they are. Anytime a team is forced to use four different quarterbacks, or 10 or more offensive linemen, injuries have been an influential part of the season. The coaches and players don’t want to admit it, but injuries are the main reason why Syracuse won’t be bowling in 2014, and they’re a legitimate excuse for the Orange’s losing record.

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.

Syracuse Football Midseason Report Card

The first half of the 2014 season has not gone according to plan for the Syracuse football team. All the momentum the Orange had at the end of the 2013 season disappeared in a flash, as Syracuse has started the season 2-4 and finds itself in a deep hole with regard to qualifying for a bowl game. Here is a midseason report card to track the Orange’s progress in 2014, or lack thereof.
Quarterback, D – Despite scoring six rushing touchdowns and being the team’s leading rusher until breaking his leg five games into the season, Terrel Hunt was a big part of the problems the Syracuse offense has had this year. He did not take a big step forward the way many expected; in fact, he took a step backward in his progression. Hunt struggled with his accuracy, which has made it difficult for the Orange to finish drives in the end zone, and once teams starting to defend his running ability, he was largely ineffective. Now that Hunt is out until at least November, Syracuse is reliant on freshman Austin Wilson and A.J. Long, and while both showed promise against Florida State, there is bound to be growing pains.
Running backs, B – As expected, the Syracuse running backs have performed well this season, with Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore both averaging six yards per rush. Neither has found the end zone much, but both have run the ball well between the 20’s and helped the Orange gain a lot of yards and pick up a lot of first downs. True freshman Ervin Phillips has also emerged as a viable option, giving the Orange plenty of depth in the backfield.
Wide Receivers, C- – As a whole, this group has been disappointing, but part of that is due to the poor play at quarterback. Syracuse still doesn’t have a lot of game changers at wide receiver, and it hasn’t helped that two of their most talented passing targets, Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime, have both missed time due to injury. However, there have been a few bright spots: Jarrod West has rebounded from a poor 2013 and is putting together a solid senior campaign; Ben Lewis has had a couple key drops, but he’s made some nice contributions; and true freshman Steve Ishmael looks like he could be a star down the line for the Orange.
Offensive Line, C – This is one of the more disappointing units with regard to what was expected. With four returning starters, the Syracuse offensive line should have been the strength of the team, but instead they’ve been inconsistent and played a meaningful role in the struggles of the Syracuse offense through the first six games.
Defensive Line, C – At times the Syracuse defensive line has been solid, but at other times they’ve been pushed around. With Wayne Williams and John Raymon getting more playing time, the Orange are getting bigger inside, while Ron Thompson has made some plays as well, despite playing out of position at the tackle position. However, the Orange just hasn’t been able to generate a consistent pass rush with a four-man front this season, and that’s been a problem for the defense.
Linebackers, B+ – As expected, this unit has been the strength of the Syracuse defense. Seniors Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis have both have stood out as two of the team’s top defensive players. Meanwhile, Marquez Hodge is having a strong first season as a starter at middle linebacker, giving Syracuse a productive set of linebackers that have been responsible for the Orange being able to hold their own on the defensive side of the ball.
Secondary, C+ – Syracuse asks a lot of its defensive backs, especially its cornerbacks, but this group has had a fine season, despite a lack of depth. Brandon Reddish is having a strong senior campaign, while Julian Whigham has come back and played well after a devastating injury last season. At safety, Durrell Eskridge has been solid but unspectacular, while Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir have played well at the other safety spot. However, what hurts this unit is how inconsistent they’ve been at creating turnovers over the first six games of the season.
Coaching, D – Things have not been pretty for the Orange this season, and at the end of the day it comes back to Scott Shafer and the coaching staff. With nine returning starters on offense, including the quarterback, there’s no reason for the Syracuse offense to be as bad as it was over the first handful of games this season. The close call against Villanova, the loss to Maryland to despite having 220 more yards of offense, and the inability to be more competitive with Notre Dame despite a 5-1 advantage in takeaways all come down to coaching. The change in offensive coordinator mid-season didn’t exactly go smooth either. Shafer didn’t seem to have a lot of answers over the first half of the season, and he’s going to have to find some during the second half of the season if he’s going to get the Orange back to a bowl game in 2014.

Syracuse Offense in Panic Mode

Five games into the season, the identity that the Syracuse football team has established is that of a solid defense capable of keeping the team in games and an insufferable offense that can’t get out of its own way. The Orange offense has been perpetually disappointing this season and is the sole reason why Syracuse has a 2-3 record and will have a difficult time qualifying for a bowl game in 2014.
In four of five games this season, the Syracuse offense has hurt itself with mental errors and been unable to capitalize on scoring chances. It started in the season opener when the Orange offensive line failed to push around an undersized Villanova front-7, which nearly cost Syracuse a game they could have easily lost. Against Maryland, Syracuse racked up nearly 600 yards of offense, but because the Orange struggled in the red zone, they lost a game they should have won by double digits. Against Notre Dame, the Syracuse defense forced five turnovers, but the Orange offense failed to turn those takeaways into points, costing them the game. In its most recent loss against Louisville, Syracuse had ample opportunities to score points, but penalties, dropped passes, and the inability to win at the line of scrimmage kept the Orange out of the end zone and forced the defense to spend too much time on the field, which eventually wore them down and cause the Orange to lose by an embarrassing margin.
There’s no viable reason for the Syracuse offense to be as bad as they’ve been this season. Outside of center Macky MacPherson and running back Jerome Smith, the Orange lost no offensive players of consequence from last year’s team. Syracuse has more than enough talent at running back to make up for the loss of Smith, while the return of four starters along the offensive line and the emergence of Omari Palmer and John Miller as starters should have been enough to make up for the absence of MacPherson. With so many returning players, as well as a few promising freshmen sprinkled into the mix, the Orange offense should have taken a considerable step forward this season, especially after appearing to hit their stride at the end of the 2013 season. Instead, the Syracuse offense has taken a monumental step backwards in 2014 and been one of the worst in the country among power-five teams; and now it looks like things will get worse before they get better.
On Monday, Syracuse found out that quarterback Terrel Hunt will miss at least four weeks with a broken leg, an injury that could keep him out the rest of the season. To be fair, Hunt has been a big part of the struggles of the Syracuse offense this season, but losing him is still a crushing blow for the Orange. Despite terrible accuracy throwing the ball and a slew of mental errors this season, Hunt is the best option at quarterback. He has 15 career starts under his belt, he’s a threat running the ball, and he’s surely capable of playing better and making better decisions than he has thus far. However, now he’s just another name on the injured list, leaving a trio of freshmen with little or no experience to lead what has been an abysmal offense.
In an attempt to jumpstart the offense, with or without Hunt, head coach Scott Shafer has decided to take away the play calling duties from George McDonald and make quarterbacks coach Tim Lester the new offensive coordinator. This is a move that reeks of desperation, but this is certainly a desperate time for the Syracuse offense. Obviously, something needs to change for the Syracuse offense, and since they can’t bring in new players mid-season or wave a magic wand and heal their injured players, changing the coach who’s calling the plays is one of the few changes that can actually be made, even if it’s merely change for the sake of change. Lester actually does have play calling experience, albeit at lower levels of college football, which is something McDonald didn’t have before coming to Syracuse. Lester has also worked closely with Syracuse backups Austin Wilson, A.J. Long, and Mitch Kimble, so he will have a good understanding of each player’s strength and weaknesses, as the Orange try to move forward without Hunt and still find a way to improve the performance of the offense.
Of course, regardless of who’s calling the plays or which players are injured, things are likely to get worse before they get better for the Orange offense with top-ranked Florida State coming to the Carrier Dome this week. Any change that Syracuse makes offensively will likely be fruitless against the Seminoles, but changes do need to be made for the sake of their season. Pulling off an upset over Florida State or Clemson is likely off the table, but Syracuse does have a handful of games left on the schedule against teams they are capable of beating, especially with the Orange defense playing well enough to keep the team in games. It’s now up to the Syracuse offense to get things turned around, give a hard-working defense some support, and give the Orange a fighting chance to make it to a bowl game.

5 Things Syracuse Must Fix After Near Loss To Villanova

To call Syracuse’s season opener against Villanova a win would be giving the Orange far more credit than they deserve for the performance they gave, so let’s just call it a near loss that results in a 1-0 record. Needless to say, there is no shortage of areas where Syracuse needs to improve before they continue their season against Central Michigan. The good news for Scott Shafer’s team is that they have an off week to fix these five issues that nearly cost them against Villanova.
 
Defensive Size up the Middle – The questions on the interior of the defensive line heading into the season are far from answered following the season opener. Syracuse knows it has one reliable defensive tackle in Eric Crume, but he can’t play every down all season, and so the Orange need to find other contributors. Isaiah Johnson and Ron Thompson saw some time playing inside against Villanova, which is fine in small doses, but both are too small to play tackle on a regular basis. Marcus Coleman made a few plays, but he’s not a giant either, while Ryan Sloan only played sparingly and Wayne Williams was nowhere to be found. Both Sloan and Williams can give the Orange more size up front, which they’ll need to compete in the trenches of the ACC, and if those guys aren’t contribute on a regular basis, Syracuse may need to give true freshmen Jalen Harvey and Kayton Samuels a chance. With undersized linebackers, the Orange need to have size on the interior of the line, and if they don’t it’ll become a problem later in the season.
 
Punt Coverage – Villanova may not have been in position to win the game if not for a punt return for a touchdown. Of course, that wasn’t the only occasion when the Wildcats found open space on a punt return, and that’s something Syracuse needs to improve upon moving forward. Obviously, the coverage team needs to tackle better, but part of the blame also goes to punter Riley Dixon, who was great last year but has a tendency to out kick his coverage on occasion, which can be a problem. This is a fixable issue for Syracuse, but if they can’t be sound in the kicking game, their margin for error on offense and defense shrinks considerably.
 
Offensive Line A Catalyst in the Running Game – Despite lining up with three returning starters, the Syracuse offensive line did not have a good performance against Villanova, especially in the running game. Outside of Prince-Tyson Gulley’s 65-yard touchdown run the Orange barely averaged two yards per rush. Villanova did stack the box in order to stop the run, but the offensive line still struggled to get a push. They seemed to struggle the most in goal-line situations, especially in overtime, as well as setting up screen passes, which is a key part of the Syracuse offense. The eventual return of Omari Palmer and Nick Robinson should help, but the offensive line needs to be a lot more physical up front and start opening some holes for Syracuse’s talented contingent of running backs.
 
Short Passing Accuracy – Much of the Syracuse offense is based on throwing short passes to receivers in space, but for that to work those short passes have to be accurate. Even before Terrel Hunt’s ejection, he did not look as sharp as he needs to be on quick throws to the flat or screen passes to the running backs. There were far too many incomplete passes on easy throws, as well as throws that went behind the line of scrimmage and became fumbles that cost the Orange yardage. Hunt doesn’t need to be exceptional throwing the ball down the field, but on the quick, short passes he must be accurate and he must be consistent.
 
Stopping Mobile Quarterbacks – A lot of credit for giving the Orange defense trouble in the season opener should go to Villanova quarterback John Robertson, who put on a great performance Friday night, but trouble with mobile quarterbacks is something that has plagued the Syracuse defense for the past several years, and it looks like it’ll be an issue again this season. The Orange like to blitz and put pressure on quarterbacks, and they’re certainly capable of doing so, but they also need to be able to bottle up quarterbacks and keep them in the pocket. Syracuse won’t face a mobile quarterback that’s as athletic and adept at throwing on the run as Robertson every week, but they’ll face a few, and when they do they’ll need to do a better job of keeping them confined to the pocket.

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.