Welcome back, Canes fam. We’re back with another opponent Q&A to get a view ofthis week’s opponent from behind enemy lines.
Joining us for this week to talk about the Syracuse Orange is John Cassillo, Managing Editor of our SBNation sister-site Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician (or TNIAAM or Nunes Magician for short).
I returned the favor and answered questions for John and TNIAAM. I’ll post the link here when they’re up on site.
UPDATE: My end of the Q&A is right here
Syracuse vs. Miami football preview: Q&A with @TheStateoftheU’s @UnderwoodSports https://t.co/MPW0xODjb5— NunesMagician.com (@NunesMagician) October 18, 2017
And now, for my questions about the Orange, and John’s answers.
Q1. So, Syracuse just beat the defending National Champion Clemson Tigers at home on Friday Night. That has to be the biggest win for the program in YEARS. Walk me through how it happened, and how you felt watching it.
TNIAAM: As weird as it sounds, we flat out beat them. The offense started hot, and the defense was relentless in getting after quarterback Kelly Bryant early. Syracuse knew how to attack the Clemson blitz, even if that meant Eric Dungey was going to take a few hits in the process. We did need some missed field goals by the Tigers to assist -- and our own penalty issues didn't help either -- but it was a pretty complete performance from the Orange against a far more talented squad.
It was all kind of surreal for me, really. I was an SU fan before I got to campus, then sat through three of the four Greg Robinson years as a student. We've had fleeting success over the last decade or so, and this felt like the start of us finally getting back to something consistently decent (at the very least) on the field. Dino Babers asked us for belief without evidence when he arrived. Now he has the evidence and the entire community is on board. It's a fun and exciting time as this team continues to round into form.
Q2. Syracuse Coach Dino Babers is known for running a pass heavy spread offense. How has this helped rejuvenate the Syracuse program that was pretty bad before he got there?
TNIAAM: It's added an element of watchability that's rarely been our forte. The 2012 team was a high-powered offense, but not until the second half of the season. Even in the Donovan McNabb years, the attack wasn't up-tempo or anything; it was largely option-based.
Dino's a likeable guy whom the media is happy to write about, along with being a brilliant recruiter and motivator. Mixing that with an offensive scheme that is all-about big plays, speed and some gaudy individual numbers leads to a feeling of more energy around the team than we're used to. Prospects see that too, hence the recruiting uptick under Dino.
Q3. QB Eric Dungey is good by the numbers, and probably one of the most underrated players in America. What's he good at and where does he struggle?
TNIAAM: Dungey's progression since his freshman year has been interesting to watch. He's always been good, and has had a penchant for big plays since arrived. But where he's excelled this year is getting smarter about when and how he takes hits. You're likely familiar with his injury history and the fact that he's missed the end of the last two seasons. Obviously it's impossible to guarantee it won't happen again, however it's easy to see he's being more calculated with the risks he takes -- while not having it take away from his performance.
The junior's a dangerous passer rolling out of the pocket, and he's pretty lethal running in open space. He'll throw into coverage sometimes while trying to make something happen. But more often than not, you'll see him either throwing underneath routes or exploiting one-on-one coverage down the field (something he's very adept at). Not sure what this is a result of, but he'll probably underthrow a few passes every game. That's typically where the interceptions have occurred. It does seem like he's been keeping "hero ball" at a minimum this season, though.
Q4. WR Steve Ishmael (a North Miami Beach native, FYI) has been huge for Syracuse. What are the best parts of his game, and who else makes plays in the passing game?
TNIAAM: Ishmael's a terrific route runner and a great downfield blocker, too. His size is an asset, allowing Dungey to throw balls down the field without much worry, knowing Ishmael stands a good chance to go up and get it. He's physical, which refs have unfortunately started to key in on a bit more than we'd like. Still, he's nearly unstoppable one-on-one.
When teams double Ishmael, that's where the offense really gets humming, though. Ervin Philips is a speedy slot receiver that caught 90 passes last year and already has 56 catches this season. Tight end Ravian Pierce has gotten more involved in the passing game as the run has opened things up for him a bit. You'll see Dontae Strickland catch screens out of the backfield too. Having dangerous players like Ishmael and Philips out there every play forces opponents into some tough decisions, usually leading to someone getting an opening.
Q5. While the offense gets the headlines, Syracuse has to play defense too. What kind of defense do the Orange run and who are the players to know?
TNIAAM: After years of running a blitz-heavy scheme under Scott Shafer, Syracuse switched to a coverage-focused Tampa-2 when Babers arrived. The results were poor last year as the players struggled to get a handle on their new roles. But this year, things have improved quite a bit. SU brought in JUCO players on the defensive line like Brandon Berry and Alton Robinson, both of whom have really aided a resurgent pass rush. An improved secondary with some standout play from Chris Fredrick at cornerback has also made a big difference downfield.
The three names you'll want to be very familiar with, however: Defensive tackle Chris Slayton, and linebackers Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett. Bennett's third in the ACC in tackles and finds a way to be everywhere on the field. Same goes for Franklin, the MLB, who has a nose for the ball and a penchant for being around the action. Slayton's become a run-stuffing force and is the key to Syracuse stopping opposing ground games.
Q6. What matchup in this game do you think most heavily favors Syracuse?
TNIAAM: I wouldn't say this matchup heavily favors Syracuse, but I do think the Orange still test the secondary and find ways to move the ball through the air. The Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the country stopping big passing plays, and I think they minimize the damage there. But SU isn't above dinking-and-dunking down the field if needed. It's tough to defend against both strategies at once.
Q7. What matchup in this game do you think most heavily favors Miami?
TNIAAM: Miami's defensive front-seven is going to get some opportunities against Syracuse's beleaguered offensive line. The Orange have already allowed 21 sacks (seven last game) and those struggles should continue. We didn't necessarily pull in an extra blocker against Clemson so we could avoid losing a receiver out in space. We might make the same decision against Miami, which could lead to some opportunities to really get after Dungey.
Q8. Prediction time: how does this game play out and what's your score prediction?
TNIAAM: As much as I'd love to predict a second straight Orange victory over a top-10 team, there's just too much going against them. Road game, an emotional come-down from last week, a more talented Miami team -- it's just a lot to go up against. The Hurricanes defense bends but won't break, while Syracuse allows enough big plays to force us into a comeback situation. Things fall short, and Miami gets to 6-0.
Pencil me in for a 30-20 'Canes win.
Thanks to John for joining us in the opponent Q&A this week. You can read his work, and the work of other talented writers, over at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician.