Wake Forest is 5-0 and playing pretty good football as of now, but they have their stiffest test of the season on Saturday, when they head up to Syracuse to take on the Orange. To get a better sense of the team, I got to sit down down with John Cassillo over at TNIAAM. You can check out my answers right here.
BSD: Syracuse’s defense ranked 29th in EPA per Pass allowed, 38th in defensive SP+, 14th in passing yards per game allowed, and 35th in rushing yards allowed. Frankly, the defense has played extremely well, regardless of competition, what’s been the turnaround there?
TNIAAM: Syracuse’s defense wasn’t terrible last year, but was also very young, very injured, and was installing a new defensive scheme with very little practice time to do so. They also were on the field more than any other defense in football, since the Orange had the worst time of possession in the country by a full minute in 2020. Needless to say, they were pretty exhausted and understandably so.
A year later, they’re far more experienced in the 3-3-5 and have been relatively healthy. The offense has also been able to stay on the field a lot more and put up some points, so that’s helped too. But having a more veteran group that’s more comfortable in the scheme has meant a lot of different looks and more calculated risks. They’re playing selectively aggressive football and have gotten a greater push up front paired with improved linebacker play. It’s definitely been the most proficient defense under Dino Babers, even if not the most big-play focused.
BSD: FSU last week, what happened? *insert gif of “we were rooting for you”*
TNIAAM: Early on, SU just seemed to let the Florida State defensive front dictate the game, running right at it and hoping it would crack. But once they started rolling Garrett Shrader out and having him throw on the run — and basically make every play a read-option — it opened things up considerably.
Despite some fourth quarter struggles containing Jordan Travis as well, I’d contend Syracuse still outplayed FSU for much of the game, and was derailed by falling short near the goal line a couple times and a huge missed call that wound up setting up the ‘Noles to win late. I’m not one to blame the refs, but in this case, it was egregious. In any case, we didn’t get it done when it counted, but the Orange might have figured something out on offense beyond just handing it to Sean Tucker, so that’s a positive going forward if the successful aspects of the Shrader-led offense are repeatable.
BSD: Tommy DeVito vs Garrett Shrader has been a fun side story of the ACC to follow. Can you give us a little of what makes Shrader the guy for the job right now and what it may take to see DeVito against Wake?
TNIAAM: TNIAAM’s probably among the few remaining skeptics about Shrader. Not because we dislike him at all. Just because we’re still waiting for him to really show us what’s needed in the passing game. There were improvements last week, but that was also against a questionable FSU secondary, and really, the ‘Noles gave him a lot more opportunities to beat them. His arm just couldn’t take advantage.
That said, his rushing ability does add a wrinkle that DeVito doesn’t. While Tommy can take off, it’s usually a last resort. Shrader is a legitimate dual-threat option who you can design runs for, and he had a lot of success there last week while picking up 137 yards and three scores on the ground. He’s no Eric Dungey, but I hope this offense doesn’t try to mimic that play-calling that worked so well when Dungey led the Orange. Shrader’s not the passer to pull it off, and I’d argue Sterlin Gilbert’s play-calling ability can’t make adjustments for that as teams adjust over the course of this season.
Personally, I wouldn’t have have minded seeing DeVito early last week, when it seemed like SU was just going to hand the ball off and FSU just stacked the box. But at this point, it’s probably Shrader’s team to run, and the staff seems ready to design gameplans for him — and ones that seem more of a fit for his skillset than most of what they’ve ever given Tommy. So unless Shrader gets hurt, you won’t see DeVito unless Wake really grinds SU’s offense to a halt and there are receivers downfield that Garrett just can’t hit.
BSD: What’s been the weirdest Wake/Syracuse game you’ve had to cover?
TNIAAM: Oh man, how can I choose just one of the various gems available to us?
As a fan base, we like to talk about “dumb games” — which are games that aren’t necessarily bad or good in the traditional sense, but just feature a lot of random and abnormal happenings that ultimately dictate the outcome and make it memorable for weird reasons. By my count, there are at least four “dumb games” against Wake, and maybe even five. But the winner is probably 2019’s game at the Dome.
I’ll never pass up an opportunity to bring up Trill Williams’s entirely unnecessary yet thoroughly entertaining “strip six,” so might as well do so once again here. That game was weird for so many reasons — the biggest one being that Clayton Welch started for the Orange. Tommy DeVito also came in while injured to take a snap because of course. And really, Wake had SU beat for much of the afternoon. It was a nonsensical game in every way, and perfectly representative of what was a lost season for the Orange under Dino, considering what 2018 should’ve been a springboard for.
BSD: Sean Tucker has shown to be one of, if not the, best back in the ACC right now, where on earth has this been for Cuse?
TNIAAM: You’re certainly familiar with Syracuse’s offensive line struggles since 2019, since the Orange were sacked 88 times between 2019 and 2020. Things have improved this year, which has helped. But Tucker’s also just immensely talented and this play-calling is content to just keep feeding him (we’ll see if that backfires by the final few games of this season). He’s a great blend of size and speed, and has great burst and vision after initial contact, which make him very hard to take down once he’s past the line. I’ve watched numerous running backs top 1,000 yards at Syracuse over the last 15 years or so. Barring injury, seeing Tucker do it this season will be the most impressive of those efforts.
BSD: Predictions and drink of choice for a midday game?
TNIAAM: There’s a lot more to trust about a disciplined Wake Forest team that’s plenty dynamic on offense and avoids the same mistakes Syracuse does. The Demon Deacons are also completely aware of what they are, and won’t try to operate outside of that idea — which has some real benefits, and allows me to cast additional doubt on the Orange. Until I see what worked for Syracuse’s offense last week on a more regular basis, I can’t see them hanging with Wake enough to grab a win. I’ll pick the Deacons by a frustrating score (perhaps for both fan bases) of 31-23.
If I was in the Winston-Salem area for this one, would have to opt for Wise Man’s Body Electric — a standout from my last trip to North Carolina a couple years back. But here in L.A., I’ll be having a Timbo Pils from Highland Park. The local favorite is a perfect marriage of a German Pilsner and a West Coast IPA, a soft yet very hoppy beer packed with Citra and Mosaic but clocking in at just 5.8% ABV. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many regularly available options here or elsewhere that can top it.