To preview Saturday’s matchup with Syracuse, I got the chance to talk to John Cassillo, writer for SBNation’s Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician. Be sure to check out the site for all things Orange.
BCI: Congratulations on the big win against Virginia Tech. What has made Dino Babers such a program changer in his first year at Syracuse?
John: I was excited about Babers's hire because it was not conventional for the region. No Northeast ties, an up-tempo system that seems built for playing indoors. He's come in and changed the way Syracuse does things from nutrition to strength and conditioning to how they talk about themselves individually and as a team. While we're still working on getting the athletes in the door to truly run this scheme correctly, glimpses are there. The upset over Virginia Tech shows what happens when we're clicking (against a quality defense no less). If there was anyone on the team yet to buy in, they've bought now.
Where we'll see the program truly change is the in the coming years, though. Babers is doing an admirable job with what he was given (conveniently, younger and talented skill position players). But the end game is quicker athletes built for the system from day one. The numbers SU offensive players can put potentially put up is a huge selling point to Northeast recruits met with few realistic options on that front. It's an exciting time for the Orange right now, that's for sure.
BCI: Eric Dungey is a QB that not many have heard of until he ripped off a 300 yard passing 100 yard rushing game last weekend, playing a good chunk of it hurt. What makes him such a dangerous weapon?
John: Dungey showed glimmers of what he could be in seven games last year, and I'm still not convinced he's reached his peak in 2016 either. Last year, he was lighter, less accurate and took a whole lot more hits. This season, you see a bigger (gained 15-20 pounds of muscle in the offseason) QB who's using the offense's tempo to release quick passes, while also running when necessary. He's still a mobile threat (as evidenced vs. Virginia Tech), but running smarter and taking fewer hits makes him a much more effective player overall. Opposing defenses are met with a tough task when Dungey has the ball. Flush him out of the pocket and he'll be able to pick up yards on the ground. Give him time to throw and he'll find one of SU's four or five speedy receivers somewhere on the field.
BCI: Speaking of weapons, it's been a while since Syracuse has had wide receivers like they have. Give us a low down on who they are, and why BC fans should be nervous.
John: While we put them to little use last year, all but one of these players suited up for Syracuse against Boston College last season -- the lone newcomer being Maryland grad transfer Amba Etta-Tawo, one of the nation's top receivers at the halfway mark. Etta-Tawo's long, fast and can create quick separation with opposing defensive backs. When corners are cutting off deep routes, he makes himself useful in the short passing game (specifically when Syracuse shows a trips formation to the short side of the field). Ervin Philips is the team's fastest receiver, and makes a living in the slot picking up short yardage on passes meant to frustrate the hell out of defenses.
Despite having lesser numbers than Etta-Tawo or Philips, Steve Ishmael is still the team's most gifted wideout, and that's evidenced by how well he runs his longer-developing intermediate routes. As teams have started to double Etta-Tawo a bit more, it's opened up more opportunities for Ishmael to get going. He's a dangerous player in any part of the field, and has great hands.
The worry for any team going up against Syracuse is that you're not going to be able to effectively cover all three of those receivers (plus Brisly Estime and running back Dontae Strickland) without leaving someone open in some space. And with a passing attack that throws 50 times per game and emphasizes a quick release, Dungey is going to find that open man quite often.
BCI: It's been an up and down season so far for Syracuse, do you think they can finish off strong enough to make a bowl game?
John: I'm a realist first and foremost. So while I was very happy to see the Orange upset Virginia Tech, I don't want my outlook to be colored by recency bias at all. This team looked like a mess in residual hurricane conditions vs. Wake Forest, never pulled away from UConn and were trampled by Louisville and USF. The team (especially the defense) has improved over the course of the season, but that's unlikely to be enough to capture three more wins. Even if we beat BC, Syracuse still needs two more of these (at Clemson, NC State, Florida State, at Pitt) to go their way to get to bowl eligibility. Maybe we sneak in with an APR-assisted 5-7 record, but in all likelihood this season is seen as a way to set the stage for being fully adjusted to Dino Babers's system next year.
BCI: Alright John, prediction time. What have you got?
John: Vegas and advanced metrics see the Eagles as favorites here, and not just because of home field. I'm going with the Orange, but looking at something like 33-24. Syracuse starts out hot, as they typically do, then BC fights back as the defense gets a bit winded. Things get a bit scary for SU in the third quarter as the Eagles score 10 unanswered points to knot things at 21 or something like that. But Eric Dungey pulls together another strong final quarter to seal Syracuse's fourth win of the season (and some #OrangeEagle points to boot).