After what has been a disappointing season thus far for the 2014 Syracuse Orange, we give out our midterm grades to some key players and personnel for the first half. Just a heads up, it is not pretty.
- Terrel Hunt: D. Hunt had high expectations coming into this season after leading Syracuse to a Texas Bowl victory last December. Unfortunately for the Orange faithful, the 2014 campaign has been close to a disaster for the redshirt junior. Yes, Hunt has shined on the ground. He amassed 156 rushing yards against Maryland and has over 300 rushing yards in just the five games he has played. However he only completed 50% of his passes in a loss against the Terps. The key coming into the year for Hunt was to see if he could balance out his running with the aerial attack. He has clearly not progressed through the air to the point that Scott Shafer can feel comfortable sending Hunt out on the field to win games against ACC teams. Hunt is out with a fractured fibula for at least three more weeks and might have run out of chances with A.J. Long and Austin Wilson on the horizon.
- Receiving Corps: B. Receivers are usually only as good as your quarterback. That is why it is hard to fault some receivers with not having breakout seasons like some predicted. It also does not help that Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime have been sidelined with injuries. However it does not excuse dropped passes, which have killed scoring opportunities at various parts of the season. Those mistakes cannot happen if the Orange wants to play in the postseason. A player to keep an eye on for the remainder of the season is Steve Ishmael. His connection with A.J. Long was on display against Florida State after scoring two touchdowns. They could be a dangerous combination against lesser competition.
- Defense: B. Being on the field for the majority of the game does take its toll. It is easy to see that the defense has given up at least 28 points in each of the last four games, but the defense has been going against some of the best offenses in the nation while some of its best players are injured. The secondary had a very slow start but has started to cut down on letting up the big play and initiated turnovers the past few games. Cameron Lynch leads the Orange with 49 tackles with an half a season of football left to go.
- Scott Shafer: B-. Shafer cannot be blamed too much for the offensive struggles. He is relying on his offensive coordinator to make sure the Orange get first downs. He can control penalties however. Syracuse has committed several holding and false start penalties that have killed drives and shifted momentum. The Orange is not in a position to make mistakes especially in the red zone and still pull out wins. It is Shafer’s responsibility to make sure the team does not fall apart especially with winnable games against Wake Forest and Duke coming up.
- George McDonald: F. Despite his recruiting success, George McDonald failed mightily in five games as offensive coordinator before getting demoted. The Mailman wanted to run a fast paced offense similar to Texas A &M and Oregon and use the sidelines more coming into the season. The issue is that particular method does not work against teams that have the better athletes than the Orange. Shafer knew there was going to be a learning curve with McDonald but could not sit and watch more shotgun handoffs out of the end zone.
- Riley Dixon: A. Say what you want about a punter but Riley Dixon has contributed to most of the excitement this year. Not only has his punting been consistently good, but Dixon has also executed on several trick plays. He also has more rushing yards on one play than Devante McFarlane and George Morris II have on the season and the same number of passing touchdowns as Hunt. Just a few fun facts.
The Orange clearly has some work to do in the second half. Syracuse has to go 4-2 in the second half to reach bowl eligibility with one of the contests in Death Valley against Clemson. The pressure will be on Shafer to clean up the mess and put the Orange back on track.
Posted: Zephan Mayell