I was able to reach out to the folks over at Nunes Magician, our Syracuse SB Nation brethren, to find out some more about Syracuse. They were kind enough to answer some of my questions and I feel like I’m more informed on the Orange.
Syracuse has started the season 2-0 with games against shall we say lesser competition. What are you biggest takeaways on offense and defense so far?
The defense is the highlight of this Syracuse team. The Orange did lose its defensive coordinator in Tony White to Nebraska. White brought the 3-3-5 defensive system to Central New York and immediately became a star. In his place, Dino Babers brought in Rocky Long, the guy who invented the 3-3-5 defense in the first place. And even though the competition hasn’t been stiff, the defense seems faster and more aggressive than last year.
On offense, Garrett Shrader is back at quarterback. He showcased his dual-threat mobility outside of the pocket to great effect last season. This season, Shrader is keeping his eyes downfield a lot more outside of the pocket. He’s opting to pass instead of scramble, which is a huge shift in his style of play. That’s not to say that he won’t use his legs again versus the Boilermakers, but some fans, me included, think it’s a great sign that Shrader is keeping his options open outside of the pocket.
Who are the standouts on both sides of the ball?
Starting on the defense, Marlowe Wax has effortlessly moved from the weak-side linebacker to middle linebacker. He’s just as aggressive at attacking the backfield and leads the super athletic linebacking corps of the Orange in making the pocket a nightmare to be in.
You’d probably expect me to say Oronde Gadsden for offense, given his coming out party against Purdue last season. However, he left Syracuse’s last game with a lower body injury and his status is unclear for the game. In his place, Isaiah Jones has stepped up to cause matchup problems in the slot. Shrader loves to throw over the middle, and having tall and fast receivers plays right into his strengths. Jones fits that profile much like Gadsden did.
These two teams obviously played a wild game last year at Syracuse in which the Orange were successful, do you think that’s a blueprint for how this game plays out?
Oh boy, I hope not. For both of our sanities. What I will say is that Shrader’s unpredictability once he escapes the pocket helped the Orange massively last season. His ability to create offense with his legs is going to be crucial once again. As an outsider looking in at Purdue, it seems like Hudson Card is a step down from Aidan O’Connell and the replacements for Charlie Jones and Payne Durham aren’t great. If Devin Mockobee can’t improve on the lackluster game he had last season against the Orange, this might be more one-sided than we think.
What unit on each side of the ball worries you the most?
The reason why I mentioned Mockobee above is that Syracuse’s run defense was a big reason for the majority of the Orange losses towards the end of last season. Syracuse could get bullied easily at the line, allowing for opposing running backs to have career days. The Orange pass defense looks more aggressive and compact under Rocky Long, so Purdue really needs to develop the run game in order to crack the grandfather of the 3-3-5.
Now I’ve been avoiding this topic for the entirety of this Q&A, because it’s the weakest part of this Orange team and (foreshadowing) could easily be the reason Syracuse loses. The Orange offensive line has struggled massively this season. The pocket seems to collapse on every single play. If Shrader was not as mobile as he is, he would have way more than the one sack he’s taken so far this season. Injuries have had a part to play in this, as two presumed starters in Kalan Ellis at left guard and Joe More at right guard have not played yet this season. Starting right tackle David Wohlabaugh Jr. also suffered a lower body injury in Syracuse’s last game and doesn’t appear to be available this weekend. There is some hope that Ellis and More will be healthy enough to make their season debuts. However, if they aren’t, Shrader better keep his legs warm.
If I tell you on Sunday morning that Purdue won the game, what’s your best guess as to why?
Well, if I haven’t made it abundantly clear by the last question, a Syracuse loss means that the offensive line completely failed and forced the Orange into bad situations. A hidden problem has also been penalties, and while we’re probably not going to see weird kickoff situations like last season, false starts have been an issue. A Syracuse loss could also mean that Sharder’s accuracy completely falters and the Orange run defense can’t for some reason contain Mockobee.
If I tell you on Sunday that Syracuse won and is now 3-0, what’s your best guess as to why?
The Syracuse defense has only allowed one touchdown this season, and it was on a freak 75-yard run on the second play from scrimmage in last week’s game. The “Mob,” as the Orange defense is called, has not allowed even a field goal and I expect them to lead the charge. Shrader also overcomes the offensive line worries and confuses the Purdue defense to the point where the Orange can take advantage of big plays.
Do you have a prediction for Saturday?
It all rests on the Orange offensive line. I was massively worried about this unit before the season started and I still am. That being said, I think Syracuse holds an advantage over every other position on the field. That should be enough to overcome the offensive line worries as Syracuse’s defense leads the Orange to a 34-16 win.