After a pathetic loss at home to Louisville, the question must be asked: Is this the end of George McDonald as play-caller? There’s no doubt he has more than pulled his weight recruiting. The coach we’ve dubbed “The Mailman” has delivered more than his fair share of talent to the Hill. But the attack continues to sputter, and Friday night was one of the most wretched offensive performances in recent SU memory.
Let’s start with the quarterback: Terrell Hunt is not improving. In fact, it appears even McDonald is losing faith in him. Near the goal line in the third quarter, with the game still within striking distance for the Orange, SU took the ball out of Hunt’s hands at 2nd and Goal from the 4. McDonald called a halfback pass by Prince-Tyson Gulley (which was complete for a TD, but called back on an ineligible man). Then on 2nd and Goal from the 19, a pass from Jarrod West into the end zone that Ben Lewis dropped.
Obviously, it’s not McDonald’s fault a wide open receiver fumbled an easy catch. But it shows how little faith the coaching staff has in Hunt truly running an offense right now. The attack was dismal against Notre Dame. This one wasn’t much better. His stat line: 17-32, 196 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs. In fact, Hunt has thrown for only one score all season. He has thrown for 0 TDs and 4 INTs in Syracuse’s losing streak. Clearly Hunt can be a threat with his feet. But mastering the aerial attack has been painful to watch.
Does McDonald have all his athletes on the roster yet? No. He’s only had two recruiting classes with the Orange. But this slide does beg the question whether he’s fit for this job. It always felt like the Orange handed McDonald the reigns of the offense in the middle of the post-Marrone scramble merely to add his recruiting prowess.
We’re still only through 18 games of the Shafer/McDonald era. Presumably, there’s plenty of growth to go. One would imagine no matter how many boos, empty seats, or losses, Darryl Gross won’t make coaching changes until year’s end at earliest. But McDonald’s offense seems ill-prepared to battle any team but Central Michigan. And Shafer doesn’t have enough offensive acumen to be able to help fix it.
It’s nice that Shafer continues to sell heart, passion and the will to turn this thing around. Undoubtedly, those intangibles are part of his style. But the Xs and Os on the field? The Orange can’t execute those right now. And with Florida State coming to town, plus Clemson in a couple of weeks, SU will probably look foolish a few more times this month.
Shafer won’t want to step on McDonald’s toes since GMcD is arguably SU’s greatest recruiter. Gross won’t force anything since the goal this season was simply to get six wins and a lower tier bowl. But this offense is officially under the microscope. And there’s a little more than half the season for McDonald to prove he actually deserves the job. And that starts with making sure the quarterback doesn’t look so lost.