Syracuse football roundtable: What to fix after 2-straight losses

first_img Published on October 8, 2018 at 12:08 am Comments For the first time since 1991, Syracuse football started its season 4-0. But since then, the Orange (4-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) have lost two straight games headed into their lone bye week of the season. Below, The Daily Orange football beat writers answer three questions surrounding the team following its recent skid.Will Syracuse suffer the same fate it has in each of the past two seasons?Andrew Graham: Nope. This week’s loss was particularly disheartening because of how badly Pitt’s top-two backs bashed the front seven, but a bye week to get healthier and rested comes at a perfect time. With a couple very winnable games — North Carolina and yes, Louisville — still on the schedule, Syracuse should still reach the six-win threshold without any trouble. Considering the other matchups — at Wake Forest, North Carolina State at home, then at Notre Dame and Boston College — there might be one or two more wins in there. If Syracuse figures out its run defense, eight or nine wins still doesn’t seem ridiculous, but that feels like a big ‘if’ right now.Matt Liberman: Definitely not. The past two weekends were very deflating for Syracuse, which is why the bye week comes at the perfect time. It gives the team a chance to rest, nix any of those “owies,” as head coach Dino Babers likes to call them, and to hone in on what it must do moving forward. After the bye week, Syracuse has a very favorable schedule in its next four games. Louisville and North Carolina are both home games that should come as relatively easy wins based on the way both teams have played this season. Plus, Wake Forest on the road is certainly not out of the question. The Demon Deacons lost by 60 on Saturday to Clemson. I’d still expect seven wins from SU.Josh Schafer: Syracuse will still make a bowl game. With six games remaining and only two wins needed, the Orange are still in good position, especially considering their schedule, which includes home matchups with North Carolina and Louisville — both sub-.500 teams. Syracuse led the No. 3 team in the country on the road for nearly the entire game and dismantled Florida State at home. Those aren’t things it did in years past. An improved pass defense, which ranks 11th in the nation in sacks, has helped Syracuse prevent opponents from establishing a consistent passing attack. If the defense can limit opponents’ big gain plays, Syracuse will get its two wins.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textColin Davy | Staff PhotographerSyracuse allowed the Panthers to run for 264 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday.Is there anything Syracuse can do to solve its run defense woes, or will big runs continue to hurt the Orange?A.G.: Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Pitt’s Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall bulldozed through the Orange’s defense the past two weeks, simply because when Syracuse had first opportunities to get them down, they didn’t. After Saturday’s game, Babers said he didn’t want to say anything negative about his players but followed that up by saying: “It’s a matter of getting guys down.” If that doesn’t start happening, I don’t see another obvious fix or improvement in SU’s run defense. With the bye week ahead, now is a great time to spend a week trying to fix the tackling woes that have bit Syracuse in back-to-back weeks.M.L.: Simply hope that suddenly players are able to make tackles at the line of scrimmage. Syracuse does not substitute out its linebackers at all, which means the core three of Andrew Armstrong, Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner are there for the long run. Watching the way that the linebackers and the secondary personnel attempt to tackle some big running backs like Qadree Ollison and Travis Etienne, I don’t see any major changes moving forward that will correct the problems. Many of these players are taking terrible angles, trying to meet players head on and then just getting run over. This is something that will take a year to fix, not two weeks.J.S.: It’s hard to imagine a personnel change at this point in the season. Andrew Armstrong, Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner have taken nearly every snap this season at the three linebacker positions. The Orange have alternated defensive fronts, playing out of both the 4-3 and 4-2-5, while also alternating blitz versus base defenses. All of those have allowed big runs. So to put it simply, it’s hard to believe a bye week solves Syracuse’s run defense woes. As Babers has said, one of the biggest issues lies in Syracuse’s tackling. The Orange have been out of position, but once recovered, haven’t finished the play on first contact. Until the tackling improves, the long runs remain.Colin Davy | Staff PhotographerSeven different SU players caught a pass against Pittsburgh but the Orange has lacked a clear top outside threat like in years past.Has the lack of a clear No. 1 wide receiver, like Amba Etta-Tawo or Steve Ishmael, hurt the Orange?A.G.: In terms of overall production, yes. Through six games last season, SU had 1950 passing yards. This year, through six games, it’s 1426. That’s a pretty marked drop. As far as the route tree, Syracuse has really gotten away from taking shots downfield this season. With little receivers like Sean Riley and Nykeim Johnson thriving in space on the edges, shots downfield to Jamal Custis and Devin Butler have dried up. Notably, Taj Harris has emerged as a target of late, setting a career high in catches against Clemson. He looked good on intermediate routes against Pitt and perhaps could develop into SU’s deep threat.M.L.: It has hurt the Orange in terms of netting the long ball, but I really don’t think it has hurt the team’s production. If anything, I think it might have helped. It means that more people have to step up on the field to produce offensively and the unit as a whole has. Last year the entire passing game was centered around Ishmael and Ervin Phillips. The year before it was just Etta-Tawo. Now, with Jamal Custis, Sean Riley, Devin Butler, Nykeim Johnson and Taj Harris, you never know where the ball is going. The Orange are putting up good offensive numbers this season. Their lowest-scoring output was 23 against Clemson. Offense isn’t the problem, defense is.J.S.: The lack of a true No. 1 wide receiver has hurt the Orange in the deep passing game. Against Pittsburgh, Eric Dungey threw for less than 200 yards on 38 attempts. Syracuse isn’t capable of throwing down the field like it was the past two years with 1000-yard catchers. In times like yesterday’s overtime, having a go-to wideout pays dividends and could’ve diversified the offense from bubble screens and other quick hitting routes. But it’s hard to say how much the lack of a No. 1 wide receiver really plays into Syracuse’s recent struggles. Scoring 37 points should be enough to win any football game. Other holes, particularly on defense, are much more glaring issues for SU moving forward.center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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