Yesterday, I answered some questions for the fabulous Syracuse site Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, and today John Cassillo is returning the favor.
CC: I know it's just been one offseason and a win over Colgate, but what are Syracuse fans' thoughts on the Dino Babers era up to this point?
TNIAAM: Considering what we're coming from (no discernible offensive system and consistent week-to-week misery), Babers's hire was celebrated as a needed shift. We play indoors. Why aren't we tailoring our offense to that (sort of) advantage?
From the second he arrived, Babers has been changing the way we do things, ratcheting up the speed of everything, altering conditioning and nutrition. It all came to fruition in week one, and we were impressed by the effort, even if Babers himself was not. SU was able to move downfield quickly and efficiently, while involving the team's collection of capable skill players previously ignored by the old regime. Eric Dungey was accurate and avoided taking hits. I'd say we're pretty satisfied through one game, and excited for the Orange's continued development.
CC: Just how different is this team Friday night going to look than the ones Louisville fans saw under Scott Shafer?
TNIAAM: Entirely. The roster may feature a lot of the same names you saw last season, but they're actually being utilized to their potential now -- at least on the offensive end. They're pass-first, the option looks are gone, and again, are aiming to exhaust opposing defenses. Syracuse now goes four- and five-wide with regularity, and is aggressive in short yardage situations.
Defensively, this group will be the polar opposite of what you're used to as well. Gone are the blitz-heavy, turnover-focused groups Shafer coached for his extended stay at Syracuse. In their place is a coverage-focused Tampa-2 that creates pressure via the secondary blanketing potential pass targets. That sounds nice in theory, of course, but requires players better suited for that type of system. The Orange are in the midst of transitioning to that system, but we're largely asking blitz-heavy players to cover far more. You may not notice a difference compared to last year since our pass D was very bad.
CC: Eric Dungey looked like a completely different player Friday night than the one who threw two picks and only completed 50% of his passes against the Cardinals last year. Was that a legitimate indication of the player he's going to be in 2016?
TNIAAM: Dungey was really under siege in the Louisville game, with the season-ending hit in the fourth quarter sort of being the cherry on top. Up until that point, he'd shown glimpses of being a better passer than his numbers indicated, but a lack of offense and a whole lot or reckless running on his part stopped us from seeing the full picture.
A pass-first, quick-release offense is seemingly going to do wonders for him and his development, as are the 15-20 pounds in muscle he's added to be a more durable player. He's going to take more time to really round into the great passer he could ultimately become. But Monday was a nice glimpse of how much he's improved already.
CC: How do you think the Syracuse defense will try and contain Lamar Jackson?
TNIAAM: They've tried to simulate his speed in practice with speedy walk-on QB Mo Hasan, but that a) probably doesn't touch the full potential of what Jackson can do with his legs and b) also doesn't really simulate Jackson's throwing abilities.
Syracuse will have to keep containment on Jackson in the pocket and force him to stand and throw the football. If he gets to the outside, there's a lot of potential danger there for the Orange. We saw a little bit of how goes wrong last week versus Colgate's mobile Jake Melville early on, and he was an inferior athlete to Jackson. The lack of a true blitz will help in some ways (not send him scrambling). But it may also allow him more time to find targets downfield. I'm skeptical we're really containing him on defense as much as keeping up with him on offense.
CC: Besides Dungey, who are some Orange players Louisville fans need to familiarize themselves with before Friday?
TNIAAM: Ervin Philips is one of the fastest players on the roster, and it showed last week when he caught 14 passes. Steve Ishmael's our best receiver, but largely functioned as a decoy in the early parts of the game against Colgate, which ended up creating opportunities for Philips and Maryland transfer Amba Etta-Tawo. Etta-Tawo is already our certifiable deep threat. Knowing where those three players are at all times seems like a good idea for opponents.
CC: Just looking at it from afar, it seems like there's a lot of excitement for this game from within the Syracuse fan base. How do you expect the environment inside the Carrier Dome to be?
TNIAAM: Friday night games always seem to be hit or miss, but yeah, a lot of folks seem excited for this one. We knew we'd be able to handle Colgate in the first week, new offense or not. Having a very formidable opponent come to town in week two is a great test for the offense and the Babers regime, and will serve as a litmus test for just how improved we are as a team. If we're blown out in similar fashion to last year, you're going to see a very bummed and quiet Dome. If the Orange can hang around for awhile, expect the stands to be pretty loud and excited throughout the contest.
TNIAAM: Maybe a little bit further into the season you could convince me that Syracuse had a shot. I just think it's too early in the year for this offense to keep pace with Louisville, and about a year out from this defense really being capable of hanging with a better team. It won't be as ugly as the most recent games, but going to have to give this one to the Cards, 49-27.