Heading into 2015, it was fairly clear that the Fizz had very low projections for SU football. I’m still proud to be the only one who sees the Orange qualifying for a bowl, and I’ll stick with that statement – but it will look awfully bleak if Syracuse doesn’t walk away with a win this coming Saturday.
The Orange is on the road for the first time this season, as the team travels down to Tampa to take on the USF Bulls, a former Big East foe. The Bulls have started the season with a tough 1-3 record. USF’s win was a blowout against Florida A&M and the team has dropped three straight, including a close game against a surprising Memphis team last weekend. The last time the Orange traveled to Tampa, it walked away with a season-saving comeback led by Ryan Nassib in 2012.
This game has giant proportions for many reasons for the Orange: the first being that it is actually a winnable game. SU has already worked its way through the easy part of the schedule, but USF begins a tough stretch where the Orange will not return to the Dome until the tilt with Pittsburgh, which the Fizz has aptly named the “Clark” Bowl. If SU walks away with a win on Saturday, it just needs to finish the season 2-5 to reach a bowl game.
Secondly, this game is huge because of SU’s injury situation. Coach Scott Shafer has already said that freshman quarterback Eric Dungey and sophomore hybrid back Erv Phillips will both be ready to play, and that should make fans ecstatic. Dungey showed rare poise and decision making skills under center before taking a nasty hit to the head, and the way he shows up on Saturday will be a good barometer for the rest of the season. Phillips, on the other hand, hasn’t played since the blowout win over Rhode Island in week one, where he scored two touchdowns. His presence will be greatly felt in the passing game, giving the Orange a mid-range option that is sorely needed.
Led by sophomore Marlon Mack, USF’s biggest strength is its running game. Mack has averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2015, totaling 392 yards in four games. After watching Leonard Fournette thrash the Orange rush defense, Mack will definitely look stoppable. USF also relies on Quinton Flowers and Darius Tice out of the backfield. The Bulls’ offensive system plays to the Orange’s strengths. Without a decent passing game, the SU defensive front should be keyed in on the USF backs all day, and the Bulls should struggle to move the ball. Look for the Orange to pull away and win this game and don’t be surprised if it takes a quarter for Dungey to look like himself in his first road test.
Prediction: Syracuse 27, USF 17