Josh is out of town this week, so I’m covering for him with the Q&A. We chatted with Christian De Guzman of the SBN blog Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.
Just like Georgia Tech, Syracuse sits at the brink of bowl eligibility at 5-5. Unlike Georgia Tech, the Orange have performed horribly in conference at just 1-5 in the ACC. Is Dino done for good? What’s the deal with Ryan Shrader? Find out all of that and more below!
1. Despite sitting at .500 for the season, it seems like Syracuse is having a decidedly bad season (looking at that 1-5 ACC record). Coming off a 7-6 season last year, what’s changed? Is Dino Babers coaching for his job?
Well it didn’t start going badly until recently. And in a way, the season is playing out in a very familiar fashion to last year. Syracuse started the season 4-0 and won games in convincing and comfortable fashion. We fully expected Syracuse to lose its next three games, which was the start of the ACC schedule with games versus Clemson, at UNC and at FSU. However, it all turned after the bye week following the FSU game. Syracuse didn’t look competitive against Virginia Tech and looked woeful against Boston College, albeit with the Orange backup QB in due to an injury to Garrett Shrader (which we’ll get to). It seems like it is possible to turn the season around after last week’s win over Pitt (which we’ll also get to, as it deserves analysis). But after the dismal VT and BC games, Dino’s hot seat is doused with gasoline and the Joker has a lighter right next to it.
2. Most Tech fans probably know the name Garrett Shrader, but I don’t know that many would guess he’s Cuse’s second-leading rusher. At least, I wouldn’t have guessed that. How has Shrader grown during his time at Cuse, and how does the offense around him work?
We’re not going to see how Shrader evolved at Syracuse due to one simple reason: injuries. As Shrader played more games, it was clear that his greatest asset in the passing game was hitting targets over the middle of the field. However, all of Shrader’s best inside receiving options have been shut down by injury, most notably Oronde Gadsden II. The preseason All-American got hurt in the second game of the season and the Orange passing game hasn’t been the same since. So Syracuse had to return to Shrader’s best asset - his legs. He took over the starting QB job from Tommy DeVito (your NEW NY Giants starting QB) midway through the 2021 season because Shrader’s skill set is very similar to Eric Dungey, who Dino had the most success with at quarterback. Shrader’s mobility and legs have always been explosive, and he initially has tried to take less hits as his Syracuse career has gone on. But after missing the BC game with an injury that we suspect has greatly hampered his throwing ability, Shrader is back to being a running quarterback.
3. Outside of a few performances, Cuse’s defense seems to have done an okay job limiting points. What does Cuse do well on defense? What do they not do well?
The 3-3-5 defense has taken over college football in recent years. GT fans might remember running into it during the 2020 contest between these two teams. Syracuse now has the man who literally created and invented the scheme as its defensive coordinator in Rocky Long. What he does is take an undersized but athletic box and scheme exotic blitzes to confuse offensive lines. The linebackers are the real stars of this team, led by Marlowe Wax, and a lot of stunts are done for them to get to the backfield. However, when the Orange defense has allowed a lot of points, it has been because of two reasons. Syracuse has not done a good job of containing outside rushes. The Orange are one of the best teams in college in defending A gap rushes, but outside runs have gashed Syracuse to the point of extending dead drives. Also, the Orange safeties can be susceptible to attack when they drop into a soft zone coverage.
4. If there is one player on Cuse’s roster that can be a game-changer on Saturday against Tech, who is it?
Alright here’s where we have fun. After Syracuse’s loss to Boston College, the Syracuse coaching staff completely changed the offensive system from the moden spread style that most of us are used to seeing. The Orange went the whole direction, converting its offense to a bruising, physical and almost exclusive run based offense akin to football played by the service academies and teams 100 years ago. Syracuse used that new system to run for 392 of its 400 total yards of offense against Pitt last week. And the leading rusher for that game wasn’t Shrader or Orange starting running back LeQuint Allen. It was tight end Dan Villari, who transferred to Syracuse two years ago from Michigan as a quarterback. He made the switch to tight end at the end of last season and now is suddenly at the forefront of the new Orange offensive system. He rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown, making him a tight end to win ACC co-RUNNING BACK of the week. His running style is very akin to Sean Tucker (GT fans remember him from 2020?). Villari isn’t going to blaze by defenders with speed. He’ll see a hole, hit it hard, and drag defenders along for the ride. GT will have the Syracuse-Pitt tape to watch to see how to stop Villari and the Orange. It’ll be interesting to see if the Yellow Jackets have a plan for that.
5. Lastly, how do you see this one shaking out? The odds had Tech by close to a touchdown early, but that line has shrunk since then. Which team reaches bowl eligibility this week?
I’m sure Georgia Tech is very well aware, but the Yellow Jackets have allowed the most rushing yards in the ACC this season. I mean, no other team is close. That doesn’t bode well for GT, facing a Syracuse team that has completely switched its offense to a heavy run attack. Syracuse needs to hope that Georgia Tech doesn’t have an answer for the new Orange rushing assault. On the flip side, the Mob defense (that’s what the Cuse defense calls themselves) needs to limit the big plays from the Yellow Jackets. Bend but don’t break has been a motto the entire season for the Orange defense. However, with extra film to study and a pretty good offense, I think Georgia Tech barely edges this game out 27-24.
You can read my responses to Christian’s questions over at NunesMagician.com. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. sharp tomorrow. Go Jackets!