Syracuse is just 2-4 on the season, but is coming off games against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State. What are the fans expecting heading into the second half of the season? Is a bowl game still possible?
Expectations for the remainder of the season are largely going to be guided by what happens against Wake Forest. Needing four wins in the last six to make a bowl, and with one nearly assured loss (Clemson), everything else becomes a bit of a must-win. Syracuse is only one week into having a new offensive coordinator and new quarterback (likely going to be freshman A.J. Long for the full game this Saturday), so expectations are tepidly high. We saw a lot of good things happening with the offense last week, and the hope is that it continues. Right now, a bowl game is possible. Becomes unlikely if we lose to the Deacons.
Syracuse has been much better running the ball than passing the ball this season. Was this expected at the start of the year?
Yeah, definitely. Maybe not to this extent, of course (blame the old offensive coordinator and Terrel Hunt being a better runner), but I'd say the strength of this team going in to 2014 was the running game with five capable backs plus Hunt to guide things. The offense has obviously shifted a bit, and now we're at three very good backs (Prince-Tyson Gulley, Adonis Ameen-Moore and Ervin Phillips) plus A.J. Long who's a speedy dual-threat at QB. Syracuse will still lean on the run, but as we saw against Florida State last week, the passing game is going to be a factor (and seems better with the coaching change).
Which Syracuse offensive player should Wake fans keep an eye on this Saturday?
There are plenty to mention, but I'd say Steve Ishmael most importantly. He hasn't gotten the same publicity as the running backs (especially PTG) and perhaps you're more familiar with a guy like senior Jarrod West, but Ishmael is quick, has great hands and if last week was any indication, he is going to be an enormous part of this passing game going forward. While Syracuse does not have a solid "no. 1" wideout, they have a lot of guys who can catch the ball, which could let a player like Ishmael go unnoticed in coverage. Wake's secondary is very good, and it'll be interesting to see if they can prevent him from hauling in some longer passes this weekend.
Which Syracuse defensive player should Wake fans keep an eye on this Saturday?
This one's pretty obvious: Cameron Lynch. Syracuse's electric linebacker has been a force in the pass-rush and if the Orange get any penetration on the Wake offensive line at all, it'll be because of him (in one way or another). On the season, he has 35 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks (plus a forced fumble). He's not the only player who can get into the backfield, though, so only focusing on him could also cause some problems for Wake.
What must Syracuse do well in order to win this game on Saturday?
Avoid turnovers, score in the red zone and get to John Wolford. That's Syracuse's game plan in a nutshell. Turnovers have killed this team all season, as has an inability to punch the ball in from inside the 20. I don't get it... it's not THAT hard, is it? But even if the offense moves at a similar slog to recent weeks, getting after Wolford could simply set up another ugly game like last year's between this two teams. No offense, but the Deacons can't really run the football, so aggressively blitzing Wake Forest's freshman QB should throw a wrench into whatever play-making ability the passing game has to offer.
Syracuse's secondary has not been very strong this season, particularly on passing downs. Was this expected to be a better unit at the start of the season?
This secondary? Noooo... we have one great player, safety Durell Eskridge, and a solid ballhawk in Julian Whigham. But other than that, this group's an absolute mess. Part of their overall weakness (focus on turnovers over stops) is mitigated by the front-seven's aggressive blitz packages. If Wake Forest can get the ball into the air, though, they'll at least have a shot to take advantage of the team's weakest unit.
Prediction time. Who do ya got?
Syracuse's defensive front shows up in a big way, pressuring John Wolford all day and diminishing the effectiveness of the passing game. The Orange offense looks improved, though they still stall out in the red zone more often than not. Turnovers make things closer than the stats may hint at, but Syracuse pulls off a hard-fought 24-14 victory on the road.
Many thanks to John Cassillo of Nunes Magician for taking the time to answer our questions. You can follow John on Twitter @JohnCassillo.