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Boston College Football Opponent Q&A: Syracuse

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Welp, we’re on to the Dome to take on Syracuse. Our good friend John Cassillo of Nunes Magician, Syracuse’s SBNation site, was kind enough to share this thoughts and answer our questions ahead of Saturday’s Halloweekend matchup.

BCI: Cuse is 4-4 now, but nabbed their first conference win last weekend over Virginia Tech. The team has seemingly played tight in every game this year though. What’s your assessment of the season so far and what’s the biggest difference with this team compared to last year’s bottom of the conference finish?

NM: This team is predictable because of how reliant it is on the rushing attack, yet remains in flux every year because Garrett Shrader is getting more and more comfortable in the offense — and the offense is also getting increasingly tailored to his strengths. While last year was miserable, the Orange were also very injured and very young. Without those same issues this year (though we’re till pretty young), it’s a team that understands itself a lot more. In year two of the 3-3-5, that scheme is far better, and having Sean Tucker and Garrett Shrader improves the offense, too. But admittedly, it’s debatable how much success Shrader and Tucker could find if the O-line was as poor as last year’s.

BCI: Sean Tucker is an absolute magician, eh? The sophomore back is leading the country in rushing yards and second on a per game basis. He’s also very wholesome on the Twitter machine. Tell us about what makes him so great and why teams haven’t been able to slow him down.

NM: When Tucker broke out last year (after Jarveon Howard and Abdul Adams opted out), we could tell something was special about this running style. It was a nice mix of power and speed, he had vision and could create his own holes despite the line opening very few of them. This year, with better blocking in front of him, it’s been great to see him develop an even better burst this year, and become an even better receiving option. The school really just should’ve handed him 44, because he’s going to break most of the rushing records at Syracuse.

BCI: Garrett Shrader has been a big step up for the Orange too. Jeff Hafley talked this week about his wanting to run you over instead with his size, and credited the O-Line with being probably the best collective group he’s seem with how physical and tough they’ve been playing. BC hasn’t had the best luck with these more mobile quarterbacks and gets a string of them to deal with starting last week at Louisville. What can you say about the rest of the offense and where damage can be done aside from Tucker?

NM: Honestly, I’m still not sold on this play-calling since Sterlin Gilbert arrived as offensive coordinator. And really, a lot of the current scheme does seem to be either a handoff to Tucker or an RPO for Shrader. While he’s gotten more protection than any Syracuse quarterback did last year, Shrader has also dealt with pressure better and his abilities outside the pocket have really tested defenses a ton. Hafley’s correct that Shrader wants to run you over, which may be a problem at some point this season, though he also does a great job of avoiding would-be tacklers in the open field.

If Shrader can throw more accurately beyond 10 yards, he (and this offense) will get a lot more dangerous. He’s not a bad passer. But Shrader is very much a running quarterback, instead of a true dual-threat. If teams can limit his running ability, it gets much tougher for this offense to move the ball (see: much of the Clemson game).

BCI: How about the defense? Do you expect Syracuse to throw similar stuff to what NC State and Louisville have done? That is, will they try to bring a whole lot of pressure and put the game in the hands of Dennis Grosel?

NM: Yeah, that sounds about right. Syracuse’s 3-3-5 brings pressure from a lot of different places, and you’ll likely hear Cody Roscoe and Mikel Jones’s names, along with a bunch of others. The run D has actually been less reliable in recent weeks, which is a cause for some concern. But if the Orange can actually establish a lead, that becomes less of a concern.

BCI: Who are some names to watch on defense and how has the secondary performed in particular?

NM: Mentioned Jones and Roscoe above, as they’re the most likely players to get to Grosel (or whoever’s under center for BC). But Marlowe Wax and Stefon Thompson are pretty active from the linebacker spot as well. In the secondary, things haven’t been as great as we’d expected. Still, Garrett Williams and Duce Chestnut are very good cover corners and should make life tough for BC’s receivers.

BCI: What’s the feeling in the air around Dino Babers? We’re drifting away from that magical 2018 season, but how hot is that seat really?

NM: It honestly depends on who you ask. For most, the 10-win season earned Babers quite a bit of leeway. But then 2019 and 2020 happened, and Babers’s staff failed to really capitalized on 2018’s success to upgrade recruiting. All of that, a hapless offense (for an offensive coach), a 1-10 season and some very questionable in-game decision-making has most fans scratching their heads — and many calling for his firing.

I don’t think that happens due to a very large rumored buyoiut. But if Syracuse goes at least 5-7, it’s unlikely to be on the table anyway given how well Tucker’s played and how Shrader’s re-energized the offense after a couple rough years.

BCI: No bye week for Cuse yet, but they get one after this. Last week was also a bit of a track meet. Think you’ll see any tired legs out there?

NM: Honestly, don’t think so. SU’s been able to rotate a lot of players in over the course of the season, and Virginia Tech’s defense wasn’t all that physical. It would’ve been better to have a bye and heal up, of course. But we’ve come this far and have gotten better despite no bye to-date. I don’t expect to see an abnormal amount of exhaustion out there for the Orange on Saturday.

BCI: Last year’s game was an absolute snooze-fest and quite baffling/infuriating at times. The two teams have kind of gone back and forth the past few years but BC has won two straight really thanks to the ground game. 6 point favorites towards Syracuse. What do you have?

NM: Last year was a hideous excuse for football on both sides, and we don’t talk about the 2019 game (you’ll forgive us, I’m sure). This time around, I think the Eagles are too banged-up and don’t have the offensive firepower to match blows with Syracuse. Add to that the fact that Boston College hasn’t been overly effective stopping the run, and it seems like a recipe for an Orange win if they can just avoid too many mistakes. Thinking something like 30-20 in favor of SU, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this one come down to the wire, either.

Thanks again to John (@JohnCassillo) for carving out the time and answering some questions. Be sure to check out all of his work and extensive Syracuse coverage over at Nunes Magician. You can also check out my end of the Q&A there as well later today.