Scott Shafer has had some rocky starts to his tenure at Syracuse. He named fifth-year transfer Drew Allen as his starting quarterback to begin last season. That lasted only two weeks because Allen was so ineffective. Shafer changed his mind amid public pressure and decided to let the younger, inexperienced Terrel Hunt lead the team under center.
This season the team has been mired in a putrid offensive slump, a three-game losing streak, and he’s decided to change play-callers. The question SU fans have today is: Does Shafer have incredible guts as a leader, willing to stray away from the prepared script? Or is he merely reacting in desperation to save the season (and maybe his job)?
Last year, the change worked. Hunt became an explosive part of the attack, and led SU to a bowl win. Orange fans can only hope this change has the same effect. In both cases, however, there really was no other options. Last year Allen was so bad a change was mandatory or the season would’ve collapsed. This week is not much different. Staying the course with George McDonald felt like whistling on the Titanic. The offense was clearly getting worse by the game, and the season was again on the verge of disaster.
Hunt has an injured leg and will be out at least a month. The problem is there is no soft landing for Tim Lester. Nobody expects the Orange to stay within Vegas’ number (22.5) let alone upset the #1 Seminoles in the Dome. Shafer has to control the locker room, adjust the players to the changes, and find a way to make his team look decent on national television for the third try in three weeks.
Who gets the nod under center? The new depth chart lists both sophomore Austin Wilson and freshmen AJ Long as the starters. Wilson has already played this season in relief of Hunt, while Long hasn’t seen a snap in a real game.
Wilson is 11-for-20 on the year for just 89 yards in relief against Villanova. While he has a good arm, his skill set does not match the zone read offense that Syracuse runs. He can’t run like Hunt, and therefore cannot fool the defense into keeping the ball himself.
Long, on the other hand, is a wild card. We only know about his strong training camp and natural leadership skills. The true freshman can make plays with his feet, like Hunt, and is extremely competitive. While his talent is raw and ungroomed, he certainly has the poise to succeed in a starting role. Asking him to do it against the defending National Champions is another story, though.
When Shafer and Lester officially name their starter, there will be a ripple effect. Naming Long the starter may show a willingness to move on from Hunt. Shafer has an opportunity to make his next statement, and it starts with Saturday’s quarterback and ends with Saturday’s effort. If this pays off and the season is rectified, Shafer will deserve the benefit of the doubt in making changes. If the offense still stinks, it’ll make fans worried there are no real solutions and Shafer isn’t the man for this job.
Posted: Jason Weingold