Back on the normal schedule, I got a chance to sit down with John Cassillo, who you should follow on twitter, over at the Syracuse site, Nunes Magician. Go ahead and check out my answers to his questions right.... here
Let’s get into it.
Blogger So Dear: Walk me through what’s going through the fanbases head with all of the opt-outs to start the year and then the severe rash of injuries its seemed this team has had?
Nunes Magician: I think everyone was pretty understanding of opt-outs, and even supportive of players doing so. The injuries and ensuing losses have ramped up frustrations with this coaching staff, however. Expectations were high after 2018’s 10-3 season. Last year’s lackluster 5-7 campaign saw optimism crash back down to earth. This year has made many feel like 2018 was the exception, not the rule, in a sea of losing seasons for Dino Babers.
While I’m not one of those people, the injuries have been exhausting to witness every year and this season just seems to be the pinnacle of that issue. That’s a strength and conditioning problem that most Orange fans would like addressed this offseason. We just want a normal season where we can see what a healthy team of talented players (and there are some talented players on this roster) can do.
BSD: Is Syracuse’s offensive line salvageable?
NM: The current one? No, not at all. Granted, it’s improved subtly here and there in recent weeks. But still, we’ve had a lot of recruits not work out on the line, and currently have a veteran group that struggles to play consistently. We have a fullback playing guard right now, and he’s not even the problem.
All of that said, this was not the plan for 2020 (as is the case with most things on the SU roster). Florida transfer Chris Bleich was supposed to play guard, yet didn’t get a waiver. Dakota Davis was also supposed to return as a starter, yet didn’t due to injury. That fullback playing guard right now — Chris Elmore — was a key part of our run-blocking, and his absence there has hurt the run game. So yes, this is a disaster, but we were an injury and a waiver away from this being a much more manageable situation.
BSD: McKinley Williams seemed to get it going, what’s it going to take for him to get fully going and energize the rest of the defense
NM: Admittedly, the entire defensive line has been a bit of a letdown this year. After being a source of havoc and Syracuse’s resurgent pass-rush these past couple years, the three-man line’s experienced some issues adjusting to the 3-3-5 — especially playing in front of a very green linebacker corps.
That said, “Bear” is the best of that D-line group and if he can truly emerge as the run-stuffer we need him to be, that should open up everyone else’s roles a bit against both the run and pass.
BSD: How does Syracuse look to take control of this game?
NM:That’s been the question all year, really. Even in the season’s lone win vs. Georgia Tech, it never really felt like Syracuse controlled the game, as much as the Yellow Jackets lost control against a defense seemingly designed to exploit their worst flaws. Without a consistent offensive attack, it’s hard for SU to dictate much in any game. But if they do here, they’ll be relying completely on the defense forcing turnovers.
BSD: Would you say Dino is on the hot seat even with such a good class coming in?
NM: There’s zero chance he’s going anywhere this offseason given COVID, the injuries, his buyout and the fact that the 2018 season wasn’t that long ago. Yet, it’s hard to look at 2021 as anything but a critical year for Dino. This is very likely going to be his fourth losing season in five years. And an offense that once paced the conference has struggled to score 20 points per game for the past two years.
So Dino very likely needs to deliver something next season, even if it’s just a 6-6 campaign. The projected recruiting returns for 2020 give us hope for the future, as does the success of several young players already showing signs of high-level production. But it gets harder and harder to sell the future the further you get into your time on the job. I hope he can do it, though.
BSD: What can’t they do if they want to be competitive here and the rest of the season?
DM: Turn the ball over. Syracuse tested Clemson for a bit last Saturday when the Tigers didn’t have their best game. But the contest was derailed quickly when turnovers reared their ugly head. With a backup QB under center, Syracuse’s offense may not incredibly dynamic. Still, they have some strengths to lean on: Running back Sean Tucker, Taj Harris’s big-play abilities and tight ends they never use (for some reason). Stick to running the ball and don’t force quarterback Rex Culpepper to have to do too much, and this defense’s ball-hawking ability could create opportunities for wins the rest of the way.
BSD: Who will Wake fans be talking about(read: annoyed with because of how good they are) after Saturday?
DM: Assuming he plays, it could be freshman running back Sean Tucker, who’s averaging over five yards per carry this year. But since there are still some doubts about that, how about redshirt frosh cornerback Garrett Williams? According to PFF, no defensive player’s been targeted more (38 times) without allowing a TD and he even managed a pick-six vs. Trevor Lawrence last week. If Sam Hartman’s careless (I know he hasn’t been so much this year), Williams is likely to make him pay.
BSD: Favorite ACC Network commercial?
DM: The Tac family of products remain a winner on the TNIAAM Slack. Can’t decide if the Tac Pen or Tac Shaver is more useless for the average person. During last week’s ACCN game vs. Clemson, we were peppered with horrendous South Carolina political ads — most of which I wish could be shot into the sun.
BSD: Who wins and Why?
DM: Wake Forest’s offense just has a more cohesive identity right now, and with at least two capable running backs, it could be a long day for the Syracuse defense. While they didn’t look half-bad for stretches against the Tigers, this group was also carved up on the ground by both Duke and Liberty. Add in Sam Hartman’s steadiness at QB and this feels like an Orange loss. Something weird/dumb will happen, of course, because that’s what this series is. Still, I’ll give the Deacs a 30-21 victory.