Ahead of Syracuse's ACC opener against us, we had a chance to throw a couple questions over to the fine folks at Troy Nunes is An Absolute Magician for their thoughts on Saturday's game. They were kind enough to take some time out of their busy schedule comparing UCONN to high school girlfriends while in college, and a big thanks to them. Our answers to their questions will be up soon.
STS: From a schematic standpoint, what should Clemson fans expect to see from Syracuse's offense?
TN: Led by first-year offensive coordinator George McDonald, who was recruited by head coach Scott Shafer to the position after being Arkansas' wide receiver coach for a blink of an eye and being Miami's wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator and recruiting stud for a few seasons, the Orange try to run an up-tempo offense that relies on its running game to setup big plays.
There's some read-option in the offense along with a mix of some old-school "just run the freakin' ball" mantra. The Orange are at their best when they're running the ball with Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley and making big plays with wide receivers Jarrod West, Chris Clark and Jeremiah Kobena.
Early in the season, the offense struggled to do anything; however, we're finding out that some of that might have been attributed to the starting quarterback, which was transfer senior Drew Allen, and the opponent -- Penn State and Northwestern both had good defenses, while Wagner and Tulane, obviously, do not.
Since Hunt has taken over though, the Orange offense has seemed nearly unstoppable. Syracuse fans understand the opponents were what they were, but, honestly, we haven't seen domination like this on the offense end since a guy named Donovan McNabb ran the offense.
Again, we understand Wagner and Tulane are what they are, but there was a good 7-quarter span where Syracuse's offense got the ball and scored a touchdown.
STS: Syracuse benched QB Drew Allen in favor of Terell Hunt. What are Hunt's strengths? Does he seem to be as good as his numbers suggest, or are the numbers more a product of the competition?
TN: The difference between Allen and Hunt seem small, but in the big scheme of things are huge. Overall, Hunt has command of the huddle and the offense, and you can see it from watching TV.
Hunt knows exactly what he's going to do with the ball, when he's going to do it and, more importantly, none of his teammates doubt his decision making and run with it.
Hunt is a threat to make plays with his feet -- something Allen really can't do -- and seems to be a much better intermediate thrower than Allen, who has a cannon for an arm but, as we're finding out, if a SU quarterback can't throw an intermediate ball then the offense is going to struggle.
Also, Hunt hasn't turned the ball over, which is something Allen did a lot.
As for the stats, of course SU's opponents have a lot to do with it, however, Syracuse's offensive execution under Hunt is night-and-day compared to Allen. I guess, that's why we're all on the Hunt bandwagon. We can just see the improvement from one quarterback to another and it is pretty vast.
STS: Coming into the year, it seemed that Jerome Smith would be the catalyst of the Syracuse offense. So far, his numbers aren't what many were predicting. What's the reason for his slow start to the season?
TN: Smith's slow start is attributed a lot to the offense still trying to find itself. Smith and backmate Price-Tyson Gulley have been limited mainly because the offense was dreadful against Penn State and Northwestern. Syracuse also fell behind early and we all know when a team falls behind early it needs to throw the ball to get back into things.
Another thing is the offensive line was still trying to find chemistry and confidence. Games against Wagner and Tulane may have helped that, along with Hunt's play, so it will be interesting to see how the OL handles a bigger, faster and more talented Clemson defensive line.
But, if you're possible questioning Smith or PTG ablities don't. These guys are still studs when they get going and if they do get going against the Tigers. Clemson fans should get worried.
STS: What can you tell us about the Syracuse defense? Is there a particular unit that is strong/weak?
TN: Heading into the season, the defense, IMO, was suppose to be the biggest strength. I was predicting the defense would be really solid -- like our 2011-10 squad that carried us to a bowl game -- as they would keep other team's offenses in check and give the Syracuse offense -- which I expected to struggle early because of all of the turnover -- a chance in a low-scoring affair.
What we are finding out is the defensive line is maybe better than we expected, however, the linebackers -- which has the talent to be the best unit in the ACC with senior Marquis Spruill and juniors Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis (all very good players) -- isn't as consistent as we would like and the secondary is BAD. So, so bad. (Which is odd because by the end of last season seniors CBs Ri'Shard Anderson and Keon Lyn played really well.)
As a fan base, our biggest worry is the defense starting out like it did against Northwestern, which manhandled SU's defense on its first drive of the game, set the tone for the day and went on to run away with a victory.
Personally, I am terrified of Sammy Watkins. If he gets the ball anywhere in space he can turn it into a big play against our inconsistent LB core and a secondary, which at this point, I wouldn't trust covering a turtle crossing the road. If Syracuse stands any chance in this game, Scott Shafer and defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough will need to have coach'em up over the past few weeks and have these guys playing like they did at the end of last season.
STS: Scott Shafer is only 4 games into his head coaching career at Syracuse. How is he being received by the fans and do you believe he has enough support from the administration to get Syracuse back to their 90's form?
TN: Once Doug Marrone departed for the NFL, there was only one guy the players and a majority of the fan base wanted hired, and that was Shafer.
After getting their wish, the players I am sure were amped but the fan base was still unsure because Shafer had never been a head coach before.
A lot of the uneasiness went away once Shafer took to the podium and rallied the troops with his "hard-nosed" rhetoric. Trust me, you watch one Shafer press conference and all you want to do is run through a wall for that guy.
As for on the field stuff, he is still learning how to not be a coordinator but a head coach. That stuff, I am sure, comes with time. As for the Xs and Os, well, he was a fantastic defensive coordinator that came up with a lot of great game plans to stop top-notch offenses and quarterbacks -- like Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and West Virginia's Geno Smith (a couple times). There's a lot of confidence he can take that same passion and smarts and be a solid head coach in the ACC.
This game, obviously, will be a big test for him and the rest of the coaching staff, which features a rookie OC and semi-inexperienced DC.
STS: Clemson is 14 point favorites. Do you believe that line is too high/low? What's your prediction for this one?
TN: Oh man, I am terrible at this stuff. I run a college pick'em contest for TNIAAM and I am near the back of the pack when it comes to picking games against the spread.
However, when it comes to this game's point spread I thought it was going to be more. I thought the line would open at around 16.5 and shrink to 14. Instead, it started at 14 and dwindled to 12 in just a few days. Seems like the oddmakers are giving more credit to the Carrier Dome than me.
With that said, I am going to pick the Tigers to cover the 12 or 14 points and win 35-20. IMO, Clemson has too much firepower on offense that I just don't think our secondary can overcome.
I believe in Hunt and think he and the offense can score some points in the early going, but once they fall behind the Orange will need pass and, unless Hunt has another level of amazingness he can reach, that will not be a good thing.