If you want to learn about the Syracuse Orange before kickoff on Friday night between the Cards and Orange, this is for you. I had a chance to ask a few questions to Stephen Bailey, who is the beat writer for the team for Syracuse.com. He provided great insight into the team and hopes that this can give a good amount of background on the team for Louisville fans.
For more Syracuse info, you can follow Stephen on twitter @Stephen_Bailey1
CSZ: What would you say is the biggest strength for this Syracuse team? And the biggest weakness?
Bailey: The biggest strength is probably quarterback Terrel Hunt’s mobility. While his accuracy has been inconsistent, particularly on shorter passes, Hunt’s downhill running ability has been clear in the three-plus games he’s played. Notre Dame’s defensive gameplan was to take away the perimeter so Hunt didn’t have many chances running the zone read against the Fighting Irish, but I would expect that whenever he has the chance to put SU in a running situation on Friday night, he will. Hunt isn’t particularly fast, but he’s shifty and strong — not the kind of guy who gets knocked backward very often.
The team’s biggest weakness right now is its offensive inconsistency. Hunt threw a perfect ball on a 35-yard wheel route to open the game against UND then tossed two screen passes over the opposing sideline. None of the wide receivers have proven capable of putting together consecutive strong performances and without two starting receivers in Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime and starting right tackle Ivan Foy, SU faces an even steeper challenge in fixing those issues against the Cardinals. A close second as far as weaknesses go is the lack of depth at cornerback. With Wayne Morgan out, SU’s third cornerback is Corey Winfield, a redshirt freshman who moved from wide receiver two months ago.
CSZ: After starting the season 2-0, the Orange are now 2-2 and are in the middle of a 3-game stretch that has them facing Notre Dame, Louisville, and Florida State. They still haven’t faced Clemson. Is this close to a must-win game?
Bailey: This is definitely close to a must-win game, especially considering Syracuse closes its season on the road against Pittsburgh and Boston College. 2-3 heading into Florida State/Wake Forest/Clemson was probably the worst reasonable scenario fans expected heading into the season.
CSZ: Can you name two or three players on each side of the ball that Louisville fans should be familiar with? Some guys that will likely have their name called a lot on ESPN so the fans should know a little about them?
Bailey: I already covered Hunt a bit above so on offensive, I’ll go with Prince-Tyson Gulley, Adonis Ameen-Moore and Jarrod West. Gulley is the lead back, though four will likely get carries. He’s shifty with a pretty good first step and a low center of gravity at 5 feet, 8 inches. Ameen-Moore is the power back, who is often used in short-yardage situations as well as later in the game. He’ll likely get a drive or two as well, but he’s a between-the-tackles guy. But regardless of who is lined up alongside Hunt in the backfield, the biggest question for the running game will be backup RT Michael Lasker. Then with Broyld and Estime out, West is the clear No. 1 option in the passing game. He has good hands and a good rapport with Hunt going down the sideline. West isn’t a burner, but he usually makes the plays he’s supposed to and can block adequately in the screen game.
Defensively, the linebackers will likely get a lot of air time. Senior OLB Cameron Lynch is the team’s best tackler and vocal leader. Lynch is a very smart player, excellent against the run and is rarely caught out of position. His only real weakness is in pass coverage if/when he gets stuck in the slot, though at 6 feet (bumped up from 5-11 at the start of the year), his height is often a topic of discussion. The other OLB, Dyshawn Davis, is more of a dynamic guy. He has great quick-twitch muscles and is probably the team’s best pass rusher. Davis is athletic enough to defend the perimeter, but also struggles in pass coverage. For a third guy, I’ll mention free safety Durell Eskridge. He’s one of the team’s two clear NFL prospects (the other being LT Sean Hickey) and is also very good against the run.
CSZ: Louisville has forced 13 turnovers this season. Syracuse has only turned the ball over 3 times all season. Which one will give? Who has the advantage?
Bailey: Syracuse plays a safe brand of offense. Passing plays are quick. Running backs are experienced. Pass protection has been very good, only allowing one sack through four games. I don’t really see that changing against Louisville unless Hunt looks for more downfield throws. Of course, anything can happen and a couple mistakes handling the football wouldn’t shock me. They’re just less likely with the dink-and-dunk scheme that offensive coordinator George McDonald is pushing.
CSZ: Finally, do you have a prediction?
Bailey: I think this one comes down to the last couple drives of the game, but I’ll take Syracuse by a field goal. As mentioned above, a loss here could be near disastrous. The players know that, and coming off two losses that really could have been victories if not for massive failures in the red zone, I expect Syracuse to be better.