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Countdown Q&A, Week 9 - Syracuse

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Syracuse at NC State Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Are you telling me I get to sit at home on a Friday night and watch my beloved Louisville Cardinals play a football game against a long time foe in the Orange of Syracuse, for free? You had me at “sit at home” but throw in the football and my night is complete, friend. I know what you’re thinking, but yes, we are still playing football games that count in 2020, and yes I am still very interested in asking our weekly opponent some questions to get a feel as to how they think this season is going. The pros, the cons, the COVIDs and every opt-out in between.

This week I got to talk to John Cassillo from ‘Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician’, our friend's who cover the Orange each and every day, providing you all the Donovan McNabb and Carmelo Anthony updates you desire. They also talk a little football over there, which was third on my list of Syracuse related stuff that interests me...lucky you John was happy to share his wealth of knowledge. Let’s get it.

Syracuse and Louisville have both been aboard the “S.S. Lowered Expectations” for around four or five weeks since the season didn’t exactly start off as we had hoped. Can you give Louisville fans a quick recap as to how ‘Cuse got where they are, sitting at 1-7 with a strong chance to go winless since the last three games?

Glad to have you with us, friends!

Syracuse suffered some injuries in preseason and lost its top two running backs to opt-outs. Then more injuries began to pile up on both sides of the ball, as the Orange lost more running backs, starting QB Tommy DeVito, All-American Andre Cisco and most recently Trill Williams, among many others. Coupled with two new coordinators and a shortened offseason to implement those transitions, that’s how you get here at 1-7, with a starting lineup full of freshmen.

Replacing Eric Dungey was always going to be a challenge, and while DeVito did okay in 2019 injuries have been brutal this season. While one would think Babers could recruit a few nice QBs to sling the ball in that offense what can we expect from the QB position on Friday night?

QB recruiting actually hasn’t gone overly well for Babers since arriving. DeVito, a four-star, was a nice win back in 2017. But we never really put an offensive line in front of him as a starter. Plus he showed issues with going through his progressions, operating under pressure and holding onto the football. Additions since him have been fringe three-star guys late in the cycle. Our QB for 2021’s class, Justin Lamson (a former Louisville target), is the first exception there since DeVito.

Syracuse v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

While Rex Culpepper got the first couple starts after DeVito went down, JaCobian Morgan took over in the last game vs. Boston College. The result wasn’t always perfect and he made some freshmen mistakes. But the freshman was 19-of-30 for 188 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT while helping keep SU in the game against the Eagles (they’d lose, 16-13). The bye week should help Morgan get more of the playbook under his belt, and I do like his mobility as an extra wrinkle that DeVito had but didn’t use as effectively. Morgan’s ability to move the pocket should at least help make more difficult throws happen. I don’t expect a breakout game, but do expect him to improve on his BC outputs given Louisville’s defensive issues.

Why has Babers had a rough go of it on offense this year (i.e. one of the worst in the country)? Is it as simple as injuries and players opting-out?

It goes back to last year too, even if not to the extent we’re seeing now. Part of it’s player absences — specifically on the offensive line. Without much protection or experience at skill positions, we can’t really run at the tempo Babers would prefer. That means a pretty simple offense is relatively easy to plan for, since its lone advantage was speed in the past.

Sterlin Gilbert was supposed to help get SU back to previous levels of offensive success, but between the absences, shortened offseason and perhaps his own limitations, it just hasn’t happened. The trouble really started when (former co-OC) Sean Lewis left to take over Kent State after 2017. SU’s 2018 offense was very good, but also largely based on a veteran offensive line and Eric Dungey’s improvisational skills. Ends up Lewis was a much larger part of the team’s offensive firepower than we thought, and his absence has been the big issue when combined with Dungey’s graduation.

The defense is younger but scares the absolute crap out of me because they can turn the ball over, a lot. They currently sit at #2 in the nation having forced 17 turnovers in 2020 and while I’m contradicting my opinion a bit from our Q&A I’m nervous the Cards may hand it over 3-4 times and make this thing “clench-worthy” late. How are they forcing so many turnovers this year?

Syracuse v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Syracuse switched to a more aggressive, ball-hawking style of play in 2018 that’s led to the Orange generating more takeaways than just about anyone since the start of that year. This new defense is a 3-3-5, but is still predicated on play-making and two shutdown corners in Garrett Williams and Ifeatu Melifonwu. Those two being able to cover well allows other defensive backs to roam a bit more, while linebackers can get into passing lanes. Obviously we’ve lost a little bit of our firepower without Cisco or Trill Williams. But this is still a group fully capable of forcing teams into poor decisions, and then making them pay.

Friday night football, it should be a bit brisk out, late November....no matter the win loss record I love this stuff. While I hope the Cards can take care of business how do you see this one playing out?

I think both teams trade blows for a bit as Louisville’s defense struggles to get a read on JaCobian Morgan given the limited film and extra prep time for the game. But the Orange also seem unlikely to be able to contain Malik Cunningham either. Turnovers help keep Syracuse around into the third, but the Cards eventually break through with the run game to seal the deal in the fourth. I’ll predict something along the lines of a 36-27 Louisville win.

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Big thanks again to John for his time and answers. You can give him a follow on twitter right here and follow ‘Nunes Magician’ right here. Both of which are worth the price of admission. (This is where I was going to make a joke about Boeheim prepping for COVID nose swabs by sticking his finger up there two knuckles deep, but with the recent news of his positive tests I won’t make that joke. I’m a class guy. In all seriousness though, hope he continues to experience no symptoms and is back on the sidelines ASAP).