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Fizz 5: Syracuse’s QB Decision, Ground Game Invisible, Shafer Gets Testy

After getting manhandled by Northwestern, Scott Shafer might as well toss Syracuse’s game footage right out the window. The Orange was pummeled by the #19 Wildcats 48-27 and SU doesn’t quite look like one with a “hardnosed” mindset like the head coach preached in the preseason. These last two weeks were tough to watch. There’s been no signs of a ground-and-pound offense, mix-ups between a 5th year QB with young receivers, and inconsistency from a very talented defense in most areas. Syracuse now sits at 0-2 with back to back losses against respectable Big 10 opponents, but what’s troubling is how the Orange is going down. Time for this week’s Fizz Five, the biggest takeaways from SU’s dreadful loss to the ‘Cats over the weekend.

  • Drew Allen has to get it together

Starting at quarterback  is still a work in progress for the Oklahoma transfer, but Allen must flip the script, fast. He has thrown just one touchdown pass to 6 interceptions. At times it looks as if he’s just heaving the ball up there hoping the athleticism of his receivers bails him out. He’s been careless with the football and his deep-ball tries are inconsistent. He’s an upbeat teammate on the sidelines, pumping up his offensive crew to cheer on the defense. But clearly Allen’s having difficulty translating his practice-play to game speed:

“There were some big dudes out there on the d-line. They did a great job of reading me and knowing when it’s going to be a quick pass and getting their hands up and batting the balls down.”

Some of his problems lie on Shafer. Allen is taking “full responsibility.” But he shouldn’t have almost 80 passing attempts through two games. The running game should fuel this offense, which was the plan heading into the season, especially against a pair of tough teams in a tested conference. So are Shafer and George McDonald putting Allen in the best position to lead this offense? Fans can’t be quick to just assume this all lies on Allen and Terrel Hunt should be the new starter. Give Allen a shot to thrive against Wagner and Tulane. If that goes downhill, this could be the end of his short-lived career.

  • When’s the running game going to start clicking?

Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley were just short of the 100-yard mark combined against Penn State, but couldn’t get much going Saturday. Both scored a touchdown, as Rome racked up his third of the season and PTG got his first. The outstanding performance this duo put on last year at Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl has raised its expectations for this season. Last season, Rome started to get hot towards the season’s end. The good sign is he’s been in the end-zone three times already, as he correctly predicted he’d score the team’s first of ’13. Give Tyson-Gulley some time to get going to. They can’t get the ball rolling, however, if they’re only rushing 20 times combined. That goes back to McDonald’s play-calling. The veteran backs, your most “sure-thing” on offense without out a doubt, need more touches. Good to see McDonald mixing in George Morris II and Devante McFarlene to add another dynamic, but establish your offense’s identity by centering the blueprint on Rome and PTG. Things should turn around.

  • SU’s defense unexpectedly crumbled to pieces

Credit Northwestern and Pat Fitzgerald for mastering the 2-QB system, as Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian each completed 15 passes and lit up the Syracuse defense. Both players offer that dual threat presence so they make a scary duo for any opposing team. The problem is the Orange D didn’t look like the strong, battle-tested bunch it was against the Nittany Lions. The Cats didn’t even need starting running back Venric Mark (lower body injury) to balance the offensive load. Instead Colter and Siemian alternated masterfully and toyed with the secondary. The defensive line came out strong on the Penn State O-Line and applied some pressure, but this week was a complete 180. It looked tired and out of sync. In the long run, SU’s exposure to two good offenses should help against some of the ACC’s powerhouses such as Clemson and Florida State. Hopefully there aren’t many issues with Wagner and Tulane heading to the Dome over the next couple of weeks.

  • Hunt’s late-game spark makes a juicy storyline

Allen was awful and the game out of reach when Shafer decided to insert the back-up, sophomore. And what do you know, he impressed immediately. Hunt ran in for a 15-yard score during garbage time to put SU on the board late. He finished with 22 yards on two of four passing, with 30 yards on three carries on the ground. Although it wasn’t much of a sample size, Hunt’s late-game surge makes Shafer’s decision at the quarterback interesting the next couple of weeks. If Allen starts this week and the Orange blow out Wagner, could we see Hunt get even more playing time? If things go south for Drew, Terrel could be in there even faster. What’s certain is he was ready to play and didn’t hesitate to be aggressive right away. Yes it’s up against back-up Northwestern defenders, but Hunt could’ve rolled over and packed it in. He didn’t.  

  • Shafer puts the blame on himself, and gets testy postgame

Scott used the old, Doug Marrone card and said the 0-2 start begins with him. Shafer was asked if the NU loss was “a nightmare.”

“A nightmare? No. A nightmare? Hell no. It was a bad football game and a bad job of coaching by Coach Shafer. I can’t wait to bounce back and try and get this thing better next week. But not a nightmare. Nightmares are for children. A childish question.”

Easy there, Scott. Syracuse fans have enjoyed and bought into the heart and soul of Shafer. But ripping a student reporter clearly out of frustration for the game’s outcome? When you combine the new coaching staff and a first-time starting quarterback, you’d be thrilled (and maybe shocked) if the Orange started off 2-0. There are going to be some problems early on. But fans would sleep better after these two losses if SU stuck to its principles and gave it all it has. Shafer shouldn’t go away from his style. He’s got to stay the course and be consistent, or else this whole “hardnosed” identity will be perceived as empty promises.

Posted: Brendan Glasheen

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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