As part of Testudo Times' 2013 football coverage, staffer Alex Kirshner is corresponding with opposing teams' beat writers and SB Nation bloggers for each week on the Terrapins' schedule. This week, we check in with Jared Smith of Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, SB Nation's Syracuse Orange site – with a longer name than ours.
TT: Syracuse has had some terrible losses this year but put up a nice win last weekend against a team that inexplicably overwhelmed Maryland. What's the attitude around the program right now?
TNIAAM: At this point, it is a week-by-week process with the football program. In about half the games we've seen Syracuse play well -- Penn State, Tulane, Wagner, N.C. State, the second-half against Clemson -- while the other half -- Northwestern, first half against Clemson, Georgia Tech (which actually never happened because I couldn't watch the second half) -- the Orange have been totally outmatched.
A lot of the inconsistency has to to do with all the new parts: SU has a new, young quarterback, Terrel Hunt, who didn't take over until two games into the season and his ups and downs are hurting his confidence a bit; a new head coach, Scott Shafer, that's still getting the hang of being the guy in charge; a rookie offensive coordinator, George McDonald, who wants to fling the ball around, but, can't because his QB isn't ready for that and because OUR BEST PLAYERS ARE OUR RUNNING BACKS!; and defensive coordinator, Chuck Bullough, who at times seems to know what he is doing, but, other times looks clueless.
When things are clicking, things are good (great and fun to watch when we end up winning). But, if things are slightly off, oh man, it gets ugly quick.
(Actually, now that I say that, even if Syracuse wins it is going to be ugly because that how this team is. Win or lose, its going to be ugly, we just hope the pain is eased by a W.)
TT: What are the reviews on first-year head coach Scott Shafer? What's in the typical Syracuse game plan under him?
TNIAAM: So far, so good. I think it is safe to say Shafer is doing a good first-year job, especially since this is his first year as head coach -- he was Syracuse defensive coordinator for a few seasons because being promoted.
His biggest downfall, it seems, is understanding when to be THAT guy to calls the shots. To be fair, it took Syracuse former head coach Doug Marrone, who is now with the Buffalo Bills, a year or two to get it too. But, it is frustrating as a fan when our OC decides to abandon the strongest part of this team -- the running game -- and our DC is coming up with silly game plans -- like playing a 3-4 defense against Georgia Tech's spread option.
The upside with Shafer is he is a smart dude who gets his players to play so hard. There's no give up on this team and, at the end of the day, if the game is close, an opposing team is going to need to earn a victory against SU.
TT: With no more Ryan Nassib, has Terrel Hunt emerged as the guy at quarterback for the Orange? What does the long-term quarterback situation look like at the moment?
TNIAAM: Um, to say Hunt has emerged as the guy is a bit of a stretch. Honestly, Hunt earned the starting job because the original starter, Drew Allen, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, really struggled to protect the ball and the offense couldn't do anything with him behind center.
Hunt, a sophomore, took over and moved the ball all over against Tulane and Wagner. It was by far the most impressive offensive outputs we've seen since the McNabb years and all of us were sold on him being the guy the rest of the season and beyond.
However, Hunt's impressive stats were put up against Tulane and Wagner, and probably gave fans and Hunt a false sense of confidence in his developing abilities. Since those games, we've had to endure growing pains with a young quarterback who has struggled against ACC opponents and his confidence has taken a bit of a hit.
With that said, Hunt is the guy that gives Syracuse the best chance to win. At this point in his career, he is not going to light up the stat sheet through the air (neither did Ryan Nassib when he was this young), but, he's going to help the Orange's bread and butter -- the running game -- because he can hurt defenses with his legs with the read-option, he can stretch the field with his arm (accuracy is a bit of an issue, though) and he has the whole offense believing he's the guy -- and that's the biggest thing for a quarterback.
TT: Syracuse hasn't scored points easily this season, but its running averages are excellent. Everyone with 20 carries or more is averaging at least 4.4 yards per rush. Is the offensive line bullying people, or do the Orange have a deep cavalry of ball-carriers?
TNIAAM: Both are the case when it comes to Syracuse's running game, but the latter is the biggest reason for the Orange's success on the ground.
TNIAAM contributor John Cassillo did a great breakdown of this on Tuesday. He pointed out running backs Jerome Smith, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, and Prince-Tyson Gulley, who could easily be a 1,000-yard rusher on any other ACC team, are combining for an average of five yards per carry, however, are only averaging 23 combined carriers per game!!
This is the most frustrating aspect of the 2013 Orange, who, for some reason, refuse to completely commit to what they do best -- being physical on defense and running the ball down the opponents throat on offense. Smith and Gulley are both fantastic backs and when they get rolling it opens up a lot of the offense, however, for some reason, SU's OC feels like he needs to fling it around.
Now, you could say: "Well, teams can just stack the box and stop the run if you're not trying to pass." This is true in most cases, but in the last two seasons I have yet seen a team (any team) completely stop the tag-team of Smith or Gulley, if SU is committed to feeding them. That's why last year's team was so successful on offense and it could be the case this season, if SU just stops messing around with the passing game.
TT: No pass-catchers have had great years for Syracuse, but Maryland's secondary has been ravaged by injuries and beaten plenty lately. Who are the Orange's most dangerous threats in the passing game?
TNIAAM: Like the team overall, this is a week-by-week thing. Last week, Syracuse tossed a bunch of quick-hitters to freshmen Brisly Estime, who's a small speedster that SU is trying to get more involved, and will do the same with Chris Clark. Most of the time they're trying to get the ball to Ashton Broyld, who is making the transition from quarterback to wide receiver, or Jarrod West, who was suppose to be the No. 1 guy this season but has been disappointing.
Other big surprise with the new offense is the lack of effort to get the ball to our reliable tight end Beckett Wales, who has been invisible this year.
The biggest thing about SU's passing attack is its turned into a bunch of quick-hitters and once in a great while will try to beat you deep. But, don't expect a lot of intermediate throws or long developing pass patterns.
(I am sure you're breathing a sigh of relief.)
TT: Syracuse has used four different kickers this season. How does that happen, and what's the broader special teams performance been like?
TNIAAM: It happens when your team's No. 1 kicker coming into the season, Ross Krautman, develops an generative hip injury, which somehow just popped up, never went away and forced him to get surgery that ended his season.
Then your backup kicker Ryan Norton decides a few weeks back to get drunk, get caught with an open container and gives the cops crap while doing so. This leads to him getting suspended for the Wake Forest game and forced our backup punter, Jonathan Fisher, to kick PATs last week. (We all got a few laughs from that one.) Norton will be back for this week, though.
Meanwhile, on the punting side, Fisher won the starting job, however, he sucked and Riley Dixon took over and has done a pretty solid job, as you can see by his stats.
Anyway, if there's going to be depth issues, I guess you want it at the kicking side of the ball. I mean, it is always fun to laugh at kickers.
TT: Last thing; what's your pick for Saturday afternoon?
TNIAAM: I am going to pick Maryland earning a victory over Syracuse for a few reasons: 1) I've been pretty good at reverse jinxes this year (though, I just admitted to a reverse jinx so its not going to work now); 2) I don't want to go into this game with high expectations.
Look, if Syracuse does the things it does best -- run the football, play physical defense against a banged up Maryland squad and don't turn the football over -- it should win an ugly game. However, the issue with winning ugly is once the opposing team gets anything going it seems to snowball a bit.
In the end, Maryland makes just enough plays to win 13-7. (Wink, wink.)