Behind Enemy Lines: Syracuse


Nov 9, 2013; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Brandon Ross (45) runs past Syracuse Orange safety Durell Eskridge (3) at Byrd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

I had the opportunity to speak with Nate Mink of the Post Standard to learn a little more about Syracuse. A former ACC-foe for all of one season, Syracuse has two contrasting victories so far in the 2014 season, including a close 27-26 double overtime win over Villanova to kick off the year. What can Maryland expect out of a Syracuse team that embarrassed them at home a year ago? Does Maryland stand a better chance this time around? Read what we both had to say.

Questions about Syracuse

1. After two drastically different outcomes, what’s the biggest concern offensively for Syracuse?

You might say that having your starting quarterback ejected in the second quarter of that ugly 27-26 double-overtime victory against Villanova in Week 1 had a significant impact on the offense.

And you might say that Syracuse, like any team, is only as good as its previous game, in which case things are looking pretty good.

That’s not to say there aren’t concerns on offense. It might sound like a boring answer, but I think the biggest question for the offense at this stage is whether it can continue to string together efficient outings. Syracuse ended last season with two good wins vs. Boston College and Minnesota, and with most of its first-team offense playing four quarters last week at Central Michigan, you saw another good output.

Now the question becomes can the offense execute against steeper competition. We’ll find out soon. Maryland, Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State all loom in consecutive weeks.

2. Through two games, quarterback Terrel Hunt’s longest pass is 20 yards. Is it a matter of his arm or has Syracuse forced Hunt into screens and short passes?

Hunt is instructed to read the defense and deliver the ball to the open man. So, I don’t think the lack of chunk plays in the passing game is concerning if the offense is moving the chains with the short pass and running game.

That said, there have been some chances downfield for explosive plays. Whether it’s been defensive penalties or Hunt picking another option, Syracuse is still waiting for that big play over the top. It might come this week. It might not. But the offense is capable of stretching the field if it’s there.

3. With the offense focused on the running game, what should Maryland fans expect from Syracuse’s passing attack?

You could see a decent amount of bubble screen and quick shooters out to the perimeter, but this is mostly meant to be an extension of the running game, a stretch play.

Ashton Broyld, Jarrod West are two of Hunt’s most targeted receivers, but the main takeaway from the passing game is that it is not predicated on a No. 1 or even No. 2 receiver. Multiple-I mean, multiple – receivers are going to catch a pass. Book it.

4. Allowing 26 points against Villanova followed by three points against Central Michigan, what’s the biggest strength and weakness defensively for Syracuse?

I think its strength is in its senior players. They stepped up in big moments during the tight victory against Villanova and are going to have to play well throughout the season. Micah Robinson, Rob Welsh and Eric Crume are three consistent players on the defensive line, Cam Lynch is leading the ACC with 11.5 tackles per game, and safety Durell Eskridge has NFL size and has ideal ball skills and is strong in run support.

As for weaknesses, I think Syracuse is still not as strong as it would like be beyond the starting 11. It has a few nice rotational players at each level of the defense, but Villanova decisively controlled clock and in turn forced some Syracuse defenders to play an inordinately high number of snaps that may have led to some fatigue late.

Questions About Maryland

1. C.J. Brown is certainly a gifted runner. But my question would be how much confidence would you have in him if he was forced to throw it more regularly if Maryland were to fall behind?

There’s no doubt that C.J, Brown and the offense have had trouble getting the passing attack going this season. The running game and defense carried the Terps to victory over James Madison in the season opener, and special teams and defense got it done against South Florida. After West Virginia, the questions whether it was time for backup quarterback Caleb Rowe to showcase his talent. With that said, the woes of the offensive line have certainly disrupted Brown’s rhythm. Right now, Brown is the quarterback for this team, but I do not have confidence in his ability to consistently throw an accurate deep pass. The offense focuses on a lot of short passes and screens because Brown does not have the arm strength to consistently throw the ball deep. With that said, short throws are not a bad option. Playmakers like Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Wes Brown give Maryland an opportunity to exploit defenses at any given moment.

2. Along those lines, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long are two really talented receivers who did not play in last year’s 20-3 loss at Byrd Stadium. How would you quantify how much better this offense is with those two players (and a healthy Brown)?

It’s day and night when these two are on the field. Two legitimate NFL prospects, Diggs’ speed and vision allows a short pass to turn into a 40-yard run, while Long’s composure and hands allows an inaccurate pass near the sideline to be brought down for a big gain. Even if they aren’t getting the ball, their presence on the field forces defenses to put so much focus on them. If they are forgotten about, they’ll make a defense pay for it.

3. Which unit on Maryland are you putting on the spot this week? Which group must play well if Maryland wants to leave Syracuse with a victory?

Offensive line. Although experienced, too often the line gets pushed around and it hurts the running and passing game. Last week was a perfect example. Brown was under pressure for almost the entire first half and Maryland went into the half down down 28-20 after a late touchdown to end the half. When the line holds and blocks well, that’s when the offense scores points. To me, that will determine the outcome of this game.

4. What’s your assessment of Randy Edsall’s tenure so far? Certainly it’s an important time in the program’s history jumping to the Big Ten, and I don’t think anyone can overlook the history of injuries his teams have dealt with in previous years. Do you think this year might be the most accurate gauge on where the program is? Or do you afford him a couple more recruiting classes before making any judgments?

I agree with you 100%. This year will be the last year with a number of crucial players on offense and defense. Barring injuries, Maryland must make a bowl game in order for Edsall to stay off the hot seat. With the James Franklin hire at Penn State, recruiting may certainly take a hit with their focus on the DMV. Nonetheless, Maryland has done a good job bringing in under-the-radar recruits into their system. While it was certainly a rough start for Edsall, he’s the right man for the job. Recruits and coaches love the attitude he has brought to the program, even if he has one bowl appearance in three years. While some fans may still be on the fence about, he has done a great job marketing and increasing optimism for the fan base.