There was a lot to like from AJ Long in his new debut. But Saturday’s game becomes critical for the Orange and its bowl hunt. So the freshman quarterback will have to drag the offense into the end zone, because it’s red zone numbers are awful.
After a brutal stretch of the schedule in which the Orange have lost four in a row, a winnable game is finally in sight. Syracuse will travel to take on Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons (2-4) have the same record as the Orange but had a bye week last week to prepare.
Unlike the strong defenses of Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State, the Orange will face a unit ranked 62nd in the nation. Wake Forest is allowing 400 yards per game, including 190 on the ground. It is no secret the Orange will run the ball, so the other half of the offense becomes the key to the game.
Syracuse is one of the worst teams in the red zone this year, with just nine touchdowns on 23 visits. That’s good for 120th in the nation. Injured quarterback Terrell Hunt rushed for six touchdowns, leaving only three coming through the air. While Long can certainly scamper like Hunt, he lacks the size and power of Hunt. Look for Long to target Steve Ishmael on Saturday, who had both touchdown receptions last weekend.
Long presumably has passed Austin Wilson on the depth chart. Long started receiving most of the first team reps in practice this week. It looks like the quarterback platoon has ended for Scott Shafer.
Long, in his debut against Florida State, threw for 167 yards on 16 completions with two touchdowns and two interceptions. There is no reason to believe that Long can’t put up better numbers Saturday after a week in the offense, experience against FSU, and against an inferior opponent.
Wake Forest has just four interceptions on the year. Long showed poise in the pocket against the Seminoles and made great decisions, save for two bad throws. In addition, the Wake defense has only tallied 16 sacks through the first six games.
Long should have ample time to make plays under center. His legs will allow him to extend plays against a defense softer than Florida State. The Wake secondary is a significant downgrade. Despite having numerous injuries to key players, Long’s targets should be able to get open downfield.
Last week, he demonstrated his talent with a variety of throws stretching from accurate balls across the middle of the field, throws leading receivers down the sideline, and even back-shoulder targets.
By making good decisions, Long can have a very productive game through the air and on the ground. For Syracuse to win the game, he’s going to have to put up numbers in the red zone – something that hasn’t happened yet this year.
Posted: Jason Weingold