With an FBS level opponent on the schedule this week we get to speak with a new blog about football. Stephen Haller of Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician had me as a guest over at his site earlier this week, and he was happy to return the favor for us today:
T-Mill: Syracuse has been pretty impressive in starting 2-0. What has been the largest surprise?
Stephen: At this point it has to be who or whatever is inhabiting the throwing arm of Garrett Shrader. In the offseason, Shrader worked with new QB coach Jason Beck, formerly of Virginia and Brennan Armstrong fame last season, to retool what was not a pretty throwing motion. The new look Shrader is confident with his passing and has a zip and accuracy on his ball that makes him look more like the four star Mississippi State recruit that was advertised. That’s also made the receivers and general offense look better, but it all stems from that one development it seems.
T-Mill: Sean Tucker is obviously such a large part of your offense. What can you tell our readers about him?
Stephen: Tucker is a bit of a beast. And I’m not saying this with Orange colored glasses, he’s a powerful runner who tends to be a one-cut and go guy, but also has the pace to hit the hole or the edge and accelerate past folks. He was actually a sprinter with the track team this winter and spring, which was hilarious to see him lining up with folks half his size. Syracuse has also started to put him out in the passing game much more often under new OC Robert Anae, which I guess makes sense... putting your fastest, most talented player one on one in space seems a no brainer. He is slightly at the mercy of the offensive line, which is still unproven, but it’s to no fault of his own.
T-Mill: Garrett Shrader has been impressive in stabilizing the QB position. How has he improved this season?
Stephen: As mentioned above, Shrader is a new player from last year. His mechanics are drastically changed and he’s still elusive but a bit more settled in the pocket and less a run first, pass second mentality. I think most of us are still in shock as to what we’re seeing, but I don’t think anyone will complain.
T-Mill: The defense has been solid so far. Is there great improvement or were both Louisville and UConn a bit down?
Stephen: Defense has been the only saving grace since Tony White took over as defensive coordinator, but tended to not show it on the tale of the tape, since they were on the field for most of the last three seasons. The defensive line is the biggest question, with three six year players leaving last season and a trend towards a smaller front, but the linebackers, especially Mikel Jones and Marlowe Wax fill well and are the backbone of the team in both experience and quality. Stefon Thompson, the starting Sam backer went down with a season-ender in the Louisville game, so it’s a bit of a next man up. But as always, as you mentioned in the question, we know UConn was down, but with Louisville who knows.
T-Mill: How does the defense match up with what will be a very pass heavy offense in Purdue?
Stephen: The pass heavy offense plays into what Syracuse wants to do. The 3-3-5 and the way White implements it wants to cause havoc on passing downs and not give repetitive looks from the secondary. You’ll see a healthy dose of man or man-under and at least at the corner position the Orange will look to lock you out with Duce Chestnut and Garrett Williams and matchup over the middle with some big safeties. Last year there were some issues with post routes or rub routes underneath, transitioning from the CBs to the safeties, but overall I think the Orange secondary has me more confident than if you said you were trying to pound the ball against this defensive front.
T-Mill: How do you see Saturday playing out?
Stephen: I’ll have my official prediction on our site coming up later in the week, but I think Vegas has this one right and it’s going to come down to the wire. I’ll go 27-24 Orange on a late Andre Szmyt field goal, but could see it flopping either direction when this plays out.