ERIC DUNGEY HAS A HISTORY OF INJURIES. DO YOU THINK HE WILL PLAY THIS WEEKEND AND IF NOT HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ZACH MAHONEY?
Dino Babers keeps these things pretty close to the vest, so it's unlikely we really know until kickoff. But if I had to guess right now, I'd bet we don't see him. Quarterbacks have been unavailable for media and Babers doesn't sound confident that Dungey can move well enough yet on his bum ankle. I do credit him for prioritizing his health here, even over a bowl game that we do desperately need.
If Mahoney's the guy, I think the offense will be fine. When Mahoney spends a week working with the first team, he's usually pretty serviceable. This past week, he threw for nearly 300 yards in the first half and looked sharp in manning the offense. The second half wasn't as good -- and that's a concern. But if the defense can actually show up (unlike the Wake Forest game), I have some faith he can give us something close to the effort required. He won't be as capable of a runner or playmaker, but he still understands the system and its capabilities.
THE SYRACUSE DEFENSE IS IMPROVED THIS YEAR. ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC FACTORS THAT HAVE BROUGHT ON THE IMPROVEMENT?
Might be the wrong week for this question after last weekend's 64-43 debacle where we just let John Wolford run wild and I don't recall a single challenged reception by a Deacons receiver...
But the big changes have come from a renewed pass rush and fewer injuries in the secondary. We loaded up on JUCO defensive linemen, who've come in handy as we've sustained some injuries there. Alton Robinson, in particular, has shown a strong ability to generate pressure. Chris Fredrick and Scoop Bradshaw have played well at the corner spots and that's been a nice positive too as teams are obviously going to try and pass on us.
Up until last weekend, the third down defense was really what everything was resting on. We don't force turnovers, and we're not getting THAT many sacks, despite increased pressure. So an ability to buckle down on third, led by the senior linebacker group, has helped get us off the field and put the ball back in our offense's hands.
DINO BABERS SEEMS TO BE WELL LIKED BY THE FANS BUT ARE THERE SOME THAT ARE GETTING IMPATIENT WITH THE CLOSE LOSSES?
I think the restlessness is more a product of the last 15 years than anything Babers "hasn't done." We see glimmers of what can happen with Babers at Syracuse, but it's come together in spurts. The upsets over Virginia Tech and Clemson seem like teases, a little, when we can't seem to get to six wins.
Still, it's only year two. There's positive momentum and the close losses are a vast improvement from last year's collection of blowouts. It's frustrating to think we might not make a bowl again, but given the schedule and all of the growth we've witnessed, I'm willing to keep the faith and most of the fan base is too.
SYRACUSE BLEW A SIZABLE LEAD LAST WEEK. WHAT EXACTLY WENT WRONG AND DO YOU SEE THOSE ISSUES CARRYING OVER TO THIS GAME?
It's tough, because the defense looked pretty capable all season, and then last week's gameplan and execution simply weren't there. At all.
John Wolford's mobile, however, he's clearly not as mobile as Lamar Jackson. That has me worried, since Wolford was able to break contain pretty easily. The comeback was largely led by Wake just marching up the field and taking advantage of what Syracuse gave them (a lot), and then the offense getting slowed by some defensive adjustments on the Deacons' end. I'd like to avoid getting into another shootout, but not sure it's possible given your offense, and what our defense looked like last week.
LOUISVILLE DOMINATED THE GAME LAST SEASON. DO YOU THINK THAT SYRACUSE CAN GO FROM THAT, TO PULLING OFF A ROAD UPSET?
Louisville did dominate, and the win did announce Lamar Jackson's Heisman candidacy, yes. But the contest was still a bit closer after three quarters (a two-score lead for Louisville). I'm temped to believe this year's margin is something in that range instead of the blowout things turned into. If Syracuse's defense can get back to what it's been doing all season, that'll help immensely. I don't kid myself into thinking that we'll contain Jackson, but perhaps if we can make the offense more one-dimensional, that could help. If we can give up less than 40 points, and the offense can avoid the second half mistakes we made against Wake, I think we can win. I'm not banking on all of those things happening, though. I hope I'm surprised.