This weekend Boston College is facing off with rivals Syracuse in an away game. To give us a better perspective on our opponent, I had the opportunity to talk with John Cassillo of Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, SBNation’s Syracuse community. Check out his site for more on the Orange.
BCI: Eric Dungey's loss seems like a big deal, what do Zack Mahoney or Rex Culpepper bring and how have they done running Dino Babers system?
John C: Mahoney's been incredibly hot-and-cold, unfortunately, which is why we saw Rex Culpepper for so much time last week vs. Louisville. The record-setting Pitt game last year was with him at QB, and in the first half against Wake Forest, he threw for nearly 300 yards. Still, he's not the most accurate passer and can rush himself into regrettable decisions (most notably, the second INT vs. Louisville, which was just tossed up into a scrum).
Culpepper is more accurate and has a stronger arm, but he's still very green. The redshirt freshman is likely seeing his first real reps with the first-team this week, and that should create a better showing than last week's rain-soaked affair. However. it's tough to just walk in and understand the rhythm of this system and a rapport with these receivers. I think he'll be better against BC than he was against the Cards last week. I'm not banking on a leaps and bounds improvement, however.
BCI: Syracuse has allowed 800 yards on the ground the past two weeks, what has happened to the Run D?
John C Finally faced some mobile threats -- something we've been terrible at stopping for what feels like over a decade now. John Wolford is not on the same level as Lamar Jackson, obviously. But he presents a similar challenge, forcing a linebacker to take himself out of the standard Tampa-2 scheme and into a bit of a spying role. We have a great, senior linebacker group, but they're just not equipped to play that role. With too many possibilities thrown at them these past two weeks, they ended up making a lot of less-than-stellar reads.
BCI: Steve Ishmael is possibly one of the greatest WR's in the NCAA right now. What makes him so dangerous and will he be playing in the NFL next year?
John C: We've loved Ishmael since day one, but it took until his senior year to really get on other peoples' radars due to the offensive turnover throughout his career, and then Amba Etta-Tawo jumping to the top of the depth chart last season. He's a big and physical player, and one of the best route-runners we've had here. He's an excellent blocker, knows how to exploit one-on-one coverage, and will really take advantage of size mismatches.
All of that said, I'd say it's still TBD on whether or not he's drafted in the spring. Despite a huge redshirt senior season last year, Etta-Tawo went undrafted and has been bouncing around practice squads since. Ishmael is probably a better prospect simply because of a larger body of work and better route-running. But his hands aren't as amazing as you'd like, and don't necessarily make up for his lack of real speed. He won't see as many size mismatches in the pros as he has in college, and scouts are probably aware of that.
Still, he's been an excellent college wideout (especially this year), and I really do hope we see him on All-American lists this year, as well as draft boards coming up.
BCI: Beating Clemson was a big deal, but not making a bowl for the second win certainly has to damper the mood about this season. What are Cuse fans feeling in regards to this season and Dino Babers in general?
John C: Everybody is still pretty high on Dino Babers due to the Clemson win and last year's Virginia Tech upset. Through the first nine games of this season, you could see the very clear progress made on both sides of the ball. You can tell the trajectory of this team is definitely going in the right direction.
John C: However, there are some concerns about this defense now following a full-on collapse over the last two games. And the offense has looked dreadful without Dungey, for the most part. We'd love to just bank on having use of our starting quarterback for a full season and not worry about the back-ups. But... four straight seasons (three with Dungey) have dealt us a different hand.
Year three needs a bowl game. That's not an "or else" ultimatum, but rather just a word of advice. At some point, progress has to be measured in wins and losses. And if you want to win back a fan base starved for a winner and desperate to see tangible moves toward respectability, a trip to the postseason would appear to be a must.
BCI: Prediction time what have you got?
John C: With Dungey, I'd be willing to say Syracuse could outlast Boston College's offense, even if the Orange defense failed to execute all that well. However, with him out, I just don't see it happening. Culpepper probably gets the start, and the team likely leans on the run a bit more with Moe Neal. It's just not enough to get past the Eagles' defense, though. Give me a 31-24 win for BC that will have me beside myself afterward.