In anticipation of the Deacs’ prime time match-up with the Syracuse Orange, we had the opportunity to exchange questions with John Cassillo of our fellow SBN blog Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician. Check out what he had to say about the game below as Wake Forest tries to end the drought against the Orange.
BSD: As we are nearly halfway through the season, what do you think are the biggest differences in the Orange under Dino Babers as compared to the previous regime?
JC: Flip on a Syracuse game this year and you'll see the biggest difference within seconds. This offense is entertainingly fast, even if not completely competent. You see weapons on that side of the ball that look like they could play for other football teams. And we're aggressive. Wake fans have seen us enough in recent years to know none of these things applied before.
BSD: With over 1,700 passing yards and Eric Dungey hitting over 64% of his targets, what seems to be clicking so far? For those that haven't seen the Syracuse passing game, are these generally underneath routes or are they hitting a lot of home runs?
JC: It's all about the tempo of the offense that we run now. Much of the passing game is based on screens (to our "inside receivers" like Ervin Philips and Brisly Estime), which pulls the defense closer to the line of scrimmage. Then, once we succeed in doing that, we're finding "outside receivers" like Amba Etta-Tawo and Steve Ishmael in single coverage down the field. So while the majority of the completions are underneath, the yardage is coming from those longer throws we hit on three or four times per game.
BSD: On the flip side, the Orange are giving up a ton of points. What's your insight on the defensive problems thus far?
JC: None of the problems we're experiencing right now are surprising at all given everything we're dealing with on defense. Syracuse has almost no depth or experience on the line, and deals with youth and injuries in the secondary. The linebackers are fine, but are also not a fit for the new scheme, the Tampa-2. You may recall our old defense, which blitzed a lot from everywhere on the field. The new defense is coverage-based, so the current personnel doesn't necessarily lend well to that. Between that mismatch, the injuries and lack of depth or experience at a lot of spots, it's how we got to this juncture.
BSD: Other than the obvious dangerous threats of Dungey and Etta-Tawo, give us another player to watch out for on the Syracuse offense.
JC: I'm tempted to say Philips, just because of how he's reeled in a boatload of catches this season (he's top-10 in the country). But instead, I'll go with Ishmael. Despite putting up pedestrian numbers thus far in 2016, he's still Syracuse's best receiver from a pure talent perspective. But his stats haven't reflected that with the way this offense works and how his mid-distance routes take more time to develop than the short screens or deep bombs. As defenses key in on Etta-Tawo more and more, that'll open opportunities for Ishmael, as we saw in the Notre Dame game at least a few times.
BSD: How much does the potential of windy and rainy conditions from Hurricane Matthew affect Syracuse's offensive attack in your opinion?
JC: I'd say quite a bit. We can't run the ball well this year, and have largely ended up abandoning it in most games this season. In wet conditions, that's unlikely to happen. And with a bad case of the drops last week, this receiving corps needs the best gloves we've got to keep this offense firing at the same tempo we have been. Since we play indoors, weather is not a factor for most games. And for some reason, it hasn't rained much on game days since we joined the ACC. I'm interested to see how we make adjustments and if unexpected contributors need to step up to counter the elements.
BSD: How do you see the game playing out Saturday night?
JC: With the weather and the weird start time, there's reason to think a strange game is afoot for the Orange and Deacs. Syracuse might not be able to do everything it wants on offense, but the same weather that limits them may do the same to Wake. SU has been able to establish quick starts in recent games, and it's worked well against teams that don't play with tempo. Wake Forest doesn't play with tempo. So a hot start for the Orange could doom the Deacons early. I expect a close one and plenty of mistakes on both sides. But give me Syracuse 31, Wake Forest 27.
Thanks again to John for taking the time to chat with us. Here’s to an injury and hurricane-free game!