Syracuse may be down to its third-string quarterback, but we brought a first-string beat reporter on for this week’s edition of Pick 6.
1. Syracuse is 3-0 for the first time since 1991. What’s the buzz around the program like right now?
It’s not as jubilant as one might expect for many observers or supporters of the program. Syracuse’s victories have come against Rhode Island, Wake Forest and Central Michigan, and while the team has no control over the schedule, I think fans remain a little apprehensive about declaring things are as good as they were back in 1991.
Inside the program, the feeling or expectation was a 3-0 start was certainly obtainable, perhaps even mandatory if it wanted to make a bowl game this year. From that end, Syracuse sits where many believed it should be seated at this point of the season. More buzz could come later, but that will take a lot more victories.
2. That being said, the young Orange hasn’t exactly dominated against its subpar competition so far. What does Syracuse have to do keep Saturday’s game against LSU a close one?
Syracuse will be missing its top two quarterbacks because of injuries, its top hybrid threat, and its best receiver is a bit of an unknown as of Tuesday because of a neck injury (note: the receiver, Steve Ishmael, is expected to play). Those are vital pieces to any team, let alone one lacking the overall depth as Syracuse.
I imagine a big emphasis will be trying to establish the run, controlling the clock and avoiding turnovers. It sounds boring and unimaginative, but Syracuse simply is not going into this fight with all the bullets in its chamber. A tall task awaits.
3. Syracuse has already used four guys at quarterback, with the top two suffering injuries. How is that situation playing out, and how successful can a backup quarterback be against LSU’s defense?
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, Syracuse is used to this. It played four quarterbacks last year en route to a 3-9 season, and if past is prologue, history suggests Syracuse does not have the quarterback depth to knock off a top-10 opponent.
Most believe Austin Wilson, who has a very strong arm but has struggled to read coverages, and walk-on Zack Mahoney, a smart, serviceable player with no overwhelming attribute, could see the field against LSU (note: Mahoney is expected to start).
4. Considering Syracuse will be rolling with its second-string quarterback in the best case scenario, how important will it be for the Orange to get its running game going early?
It means everything, and it would mean everything even if Syracuse had its first-string quarterback. Syracuse has not shown enough consistency in the passing game to suggest it can beat a quality opponent without having success on the ground.
Three running backs will likely see carries: Devante McFarlane, George Morris and freshman Jordan Fredericks. Syracuse also has an option package in its offense. Of course, any success with the run starts up front, and Syracuse has a tall order in front of it against LSU’s defensive front.
5. The Orange has allowed only 1.5 yards per rush so far. How effective can its front seven be against Leonard Fournette and LSU’s multi-headed rushing attack?
This is kind of judgment day for the Syracuse defensive front. It has mostly been terrific over the last two seasons, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see SU load up the box with as many as nine defenders to stop Fournette. That was part of the strategy a couple years ago against Boston College’s Heisman finalist, Andre Williams, and it worked.
Of course, for as good as Williams is, Fournette is on a different level. Here’s the problem I foresee: It’s not just Fournette that can hurt you, and Syracuse does not have the quality depth just yet to hold up against that group and offensive line for 60 minutes.
6. Last week, Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush shredded Syracuse’s secondary for 430 yards on 37-of-51 passing. The Tigers haven’t shown much of an aerial attack so far, but how big of a concern is the Orange’s pass defense?
And the week before, Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford threw for 373 yards. So, it hasn’t been a particularly good two-week stretch for the secondary. When a team blitzes as frequently as Syracuse, you put a heavy burden on the secondary to hold up. The safety position is littered with youth and doesn’t have any depth beyond the top three that play.