We’re headed to upstate New York to take on Syracuse this Saturday at 2:00pm. The Orange are 1-6 on the season, losers of four straight by at least two scores. Naturally, BC enters the game as a two touchdown favorite in their own right. John Cassillo of SB Nation’s Syracuse site, Nunes Magician, shared his thoughts with us on all things ‘Cuse and what to expect from the Orange this weekend. You can follow him here.
BCI: Given all of the injuries and opt-outs, how does Syracuse compare now, about halfway through the season, to your expectations early on? How much leeway has Dino Babers earned with the fanbase after a 10-win season only two seasons ago?
Opt-outs were less of an issue — there were just three, though two were at the top of the running back depth chart — than injuries. That’s where Syracuse has been decimated this year. Looking back at the projected depth chart in the summer, the Orange are down at least eight of the guys on the two-deep (almost all starters) and even more when you start looking at additional depth and would-be starters to fill those spots. It’s been a rough go, and strength and conditioning has to be in the crosshairs if you’re Dino Babers.
I think all SU fans had higher expectations than a 1-6 start heading into the season because of a lot of returning talent and coordinator changes on both sides of the ball. But the injuries really derailed things, and that’s how we end up here.
Babers has leeway with some fans given the injuries and offseason limitations, but even with the recent 10-win season, it seems unlikely he could survive another losing season in 2021 — especially if this banged-up group goes 1-10 this fall.
BCI: With Tommy DeVito out, it’s primarily been Rex Culpepper starting at quarterback. JaCobian Morgan, however, ended the last game against Wake Forest. Dino Babers sounded pretty coy about who we should expect to see this weekend. Any inkling on which way he leans? What’s the difference between these two and who would you prefer?
Babers has been adamant that Culpepper, a redshirt senior, has a better command of the playbook and allows the Orange offense to do a lot more. But given what we’ve seen with him at the helm — 46.4% passing, six touchdowns vs. seven interceptions — I think it’s safe to say Syracuse should take the risk and let Morgan get the ball.
With the game already decided, Morgan went 7-for-7 for 57 yards and a touchdown against Wake Forest’s second team defense last week. Of course the circumstances deserve a caveat, but it seems unlikely that Culpepper would’ve done the same. Most Orange fans feel like Babers is going to start Culpepper again vs. BC. But if he does, a short hook should be a requirement. There’s zero value to starting a mildly effective redshirt senior over a true freshman who is not a finished product yet and should conceivably be part of the program’s future plans at QB.
BCI: Syracuse looks to have some other injury concerns with freshman running back Sean Tucker, but could welcome back Dakota Davis to the offensive line. What do those two mean to the offense, and what other offensive playmakers should we be keeping an eye out for?
Tucker’s emergence was brought on by injuries and opt-outs at running back (SU lost three players in front of him), yet he’s shown himself to be the best back on the roster in limited action. He has a great blend of speed and size, and runs with power between the tackles. With 362 yards on 71 carries, he’s been the entire offense in recent weeks (Wake aside since he couldn’t go).
Davis returning would be a major boost to SU’s beleaguered offensive line. While I’d contend the line’s gotten better over the course of the year, they’ve still struggled without Davis, and have had to plug in fullback Chris Elmore as a result. If Davis is healthy enough to go, it should mean more inside running lanes and more time to throw — problem areas for this offense going back to last season.
BCI: Last year, AJ Dillon was able to run amuck against Syracuse. BC hasn’t had even close to the same rushing output this season, but is the Orange front seven capable of preventing the same result?
Syracuse’s run defense has struggled mightily at times this year, even if not to the level we saw in the Boston College game last year. Duke and Liberty had a field day on the ground, while Wake started out strong before slowing in the second half. The Orange run D has its issues with just three down lineman and a green linebacker corps. But I actually felt like they settled in well in the second half against Clemson and the Deacs, utilizing more run blitzes and plugging holes more effectively. I don’t see last year repeating itself, though it wouldn’t shock me to see David Bailey carving through this front yet again to some extent.
BCI: How do you expect the Syracuse defense to attack the now more pass-happy Eagle offense?
Mentioned the blitz above, but do feel like that’s essential to disrupting BC’s passing attack. The down linemen aren’t necessarily going to generate pressure, as it’s not their role within the 3-3-5 scheme. So if SU is going to keep Jurkovec off-balance and/or force him into some bad throws, it needs the linebackers (and defensive backs, at times) to get penetration.
Despite the raw numbers, Syracuse’s secondary is the strength of this defense and remains turnover happy as they have been for the last few years. The Eagles don’t make a ton of mistakes. But the Orange are also pretty good at forcing them.
BCI: BC opens as nearly a two touchdown favorite in this one. The two teams have gone back and forth in terms of wins the past few years, but then again this is a brand new Eagles team. How do you think this one goes?
I’d love to say that Syracuse puts Morgan at QB and without a lot of tape to go off of, they’re able to spring a surprise on the rival Eagles. However, there are just too many injuries for the Orange, and it (disappointingly) seems very likely that Babers is opting for Culpepper to get the ball for at least a half in this one. I think SU plays BC tighter than expected and the defense makes some plays to keep the Orange around longer than they have any right to given the offense’s struggles. But it’s still likely a loss for ‘Cuse. I’ll pick something like 31-20.
Thanks again to John for taking the time to share and pass along the insight. Be sure to check out Nunes Magician for all of their coverage leading up to the game.