Through two weeks we have seen points, points and more points. Young players have stepped up, others have emerged and Eric Dungey is still Eric Dungey. But Western Michigan and Wagner are two of the easiest opponents the Orange will see all season long. So it’s refreshing that Syracuse has dominated with Dungey on the field.
But now come the real tests. Syracuse is one-third of the way to becoming bowl-eligible with the daunting task of the ACC Atlantic dominating the rest of the road to game 13. The first one comes this Saturday against Florida State, who is not off to the hottest of starts. After that comes a soft UConn matchup at home, followed by a trip to a revenge-seeking Clemson team.
Despite what we have seen through the first two weeks, there is still a lot that the Orange needs to prove if it wants to be a bowl-caliber team instead of a fifth straight sub-.500 season.
Second receiving option
Week one showed that Jamal Custis could be the heir to the Dino Babers All-American wide receiver throne. But outside of Custis, no other wide receivers caught a pass. Week two showed a much more diverse reception haul. Four different wideouts caught touchdown passes. Nobody particularly shined and there were some wonky plays that led to scores. But there was no indication that anyone outside of Custis is ready to take the second, third or even fourth receiver role. Florida State got exposed in the secondary against Samford, who torched the Seminoles for 475 yards. Just from watching the game, it seemed like a Samford receiver was wide open downfield on every play. Sean Riley and Nykeim Johnson all caught touchdowns against Wagner and Devin Butler caught four passes. With a bevy of unproven options, Florida State could be a sneaky time for one or more of those three to break out and get some confidence rolling for the remainder of the season.
Last season, Syracuse was tied for the third fewest sacks in all of the Power Five. The Orange did struggle with injuries to key players last year, but 2018 hasn’t shown much of a change. SU has just three sacks so far against a decent Western Michigan offensive line and the FCS Wagner line. Kendall Coleman picked up one against the Broncos, but we haven’t seen any of the other big hitters take advantage of weaker matchups. Alton Robinson was the team’s leader last season and Chris Slayton has drawn praise as a preseason All-ACC selection. But the two have teamed up for just three total tackles, none of which were for a loss. If the line is going to have any success this season, Slayton and Robinson have to step up against these bigger opponents.
Sure, Syracuse has already surpassed its interception total from 2017. In fact, Andre Cisco could do it alone in the next couple of games. But the third quarter collapse certainly raised some ears. Heck, even the long pass against Wagner was a little alarming. But Syracuse is going to face more wideouts with D’Wayne Eskridge speed than anyone on Wagner, and that’s where the implosion occurred. Scoop Bradshaw made a goal to have eight interceptions this season, so he’s certainly going to have to pick it up if he wants to make good on that. There will be challenges ahead with Deondre Francois and Trevor Lawrence over the next three weeks, but Syracuse has a relatively good combination of experience and skill in the back end to compete.
Andre the Giant?
Is Andre Szmyt the real deal? It sure seems like it through the first couple games. He’s 4-for-4 on field goals, including a test from 50 yards. But for someone with no expectations, Szmyt has proven he can kick indoors, outdoors, short and long. Now can he do it for the remainder of the season? Syracuse’s first five losses of 2017 were all determined by less than 10 points. With a team that is improved from last year, special teams will certainly be a factor once again.