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Countdown Q&A, Week 11- Syracuse

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Cards secured bowl eligibility last week and in my mind are playing with house money these last two games. Win out and you’re looking at some ‘Coach Of The Year’ hardware making it’s way back to Cardinal Stadium at the end of the season. Lose them both and there will be some temporary disappointment for sure, but an overwhelming feeling of progress moving forward. Fortunately for the Cards, their last two opponents are two of the easier challenges of the year on paper.

This week the Cards take on the Orange of Syracuse so I got to speak with our good friend John Cassillo over at ‘Nunes Magician’ about the upcoming contest. Let’s talk football....and maybe just a nibble of basketball.

While the loss of a four-year starter at quarterback in Eric Dungey is tough to account for, I’m not sure many predicted a fall of this magnitude for the Orange in 2019. From finishing 2018 at 10-3, second in the Atlantic, to clinging on for dear life to bowl eligibility with a couple tough matchups remaining. I mean, a team hasn’t dropped off this fast in the ACC since…….2018 Louisville. Dammit. Outside of the QB play, what else has contributed to the quick downturn?

Realistically, I don’t know how much QB play has really contributed to the downturn. If you look at Tommy DeVito’s numbers (63% completion, 2,180 passing yards, 17 TDs, 5 INTs), they’re far from terrible. They’re just not eye-popping and he fails to provide the same lift Dungey did running the ball.

The bigger issues come from the offensive line, which has failed to protect DeVito for much of the season, and without an ability to run block, has made the offense a little too one-dimensional. Syracuse may have addressed some of the line concerns last week. But we’ll have to get another game’s worth of improvement to really tell if it sticks.

Louisville, under Satterfield, places a heavy focus on the run game, relying on Javian Hawkins, Hassan Hall, and Micale Cunningham to beat teams with their legs. One of the first things I look at for the Cards upcoming opponent is how well they defend the run. If a team can stop the ground attack with a level of consistency, then I have some up front concerns about Louisville’s offensive execution. Syracuse….well, they don’t defend the run all that well, John. Currently last in the ACC and 94th nationally, Cuse is giving up around 190yds/game and has allowed 22 rushing touchdowns. What’s the issue with stopping teams from going full ‘Forrest Gump’ all over them?

Syracuse’s top defensive tackle, McKinley Williams, had been out all year before the Duke game, which certainly contributes to run-stopping struggles. Not having Williams there put additional stress on a struggling linebacker group, and allowed opposing teams to pay more attention to SU’s edge-rushers (particularly Alton Robinson) as well. The defensive coaching also lacked for much of the early part of the season, which is what led to the dismissal of DC Brian Ward following the Boston College debacle.

Duke was just one game, of course, but with Williams out there and some defensive tweaks, SU looked a lot better against the run last week -- allowing just 122 yards on 45 carries (2.71 yards per). The Orange may not be vastly improved stopping the run now, but they’ll be better than what’s been seen for much of the season.

Staying on the run game, when Cuse has the ball I’m a bit surprised at the dropoff in production from Moe Neal, a back I liked over the last few seasons that seemed to be a solid counter to Dungey slicing folks up with his arm. This season his yards/att have dropped over a full yard and his yards/game is now sub 60. Outside of last week, what happened in the ground game? Why Moe not playin’ good no Moe?

NCAA Football: Camping World Bowl-West Virginia vs Syracuse Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Got into some of this above with the O-line. They’ve been pretty bad all season when it comes to opening holes for runners or keeping DeVito upright. Falling behind in games has also led to one-dimensional gameplans that don’t emphasize running backs to the same extent we got to last season.

Neal looked a lot better last week, picking up 115 yards and a score on 17 carries. The adjustment on the line to move Carlos Vettorello to center and send Airon Servais to left tackle seemed to work against Duke. We’ll see if it has the same effect against the Cards.

Despite some disappointing performances this year Syracuse looked like the Orange of old last Saturday, beating the elitism out of Duke in front of roughly what I would guess to be enough fans to fill Cameron Indoor, grabbing their first ACC win this season. What clicked last week?

The altered O-line had its best game of the season, DeVito had time to throw and the run game actually led the way. Syracuse’s potentially revamped defense had a big day with Williams back, getting after Duke QB Quentin Harris. And best of all, Syracuse converted three Blue Devils turnovers into three touchdowns. The team looked like they were playing with confidence -- something I can’t recall seeing much of this year.

Quick side note. Since we are in the ACC all Q&A posts, no matter what time or season, must at some point direct itself back to the king of the conference, and that my friend is basketball. What’s Boeheim got in the stable this year?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 20 Cornell at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As a football fan first, I’m offended.

That said, Jim Boeheim brings the 2-3 zone back once again, with a largely new collection of players, however. Despite what was seen in the opener vs. Virginia, this year’s Orange squad is poised to be better on the offensive end and more reliant on outside shooting. There will be rough patches with a young team. But the good news is they’re likely to improve as the season wears on.

Louisville has greatly exceeded expectations this season and Syracuse…has not. The teams roll into the former [National Pizza Chain] Cardinal Stadium and appear at present time to be heading in opposite directions. But as we know, games aren’t played on paper….they’re played in a computer, and Vegas says Louisville is favored by around 8.5 at the time I’m writing this. What do you think we see on a cold and potentially “moist” Saturday afternoon How’s this one play out?

I think Syracuse is a better team than what’s been on display for much of conference play, but also think they’re not necessarily as good as the group that beat Duke by 43 last Saturday. Given Louisville’s defensive struggles this year, I think we’ll see a decent output from the Orange offense. Though the key, as you alluded to, is the SU run defense. If they can slow down the Cardinals on the ground, Syracuse has a shot here. If not, it’ll be a long afternoon. Regrettably picking Louisville here, 37-31.


Thanks again to John for his time and input. Give him a follow right here, and go follow ‘Nunes Magician’ right here. I personally look forward to their Throwback Thursday posts where they highlight things like Louisville coming back from 20+ in the last Big East Tournament, or how Lamar Jackson jumped over the whole Carrier know, all the iconic moments in Syracuse history.