After a stellar week one performance, the Orange elevates its competition to the FBS level this week against Middle Tennessee State, AKA the school you never knew existed until SU’s 2016 Final Four run.
While there is a lack of familiarity with the school, there is one known for Syracuse fans. The Blue Raiders defense is led by former Orange head coach Scott Shafer, who compiled a 14-23 record at SU, including a win in the 2013 Texas Bowl. Shafer returns to SU in the same position he entered it: defensive coordinator. While serving as the DC at SU, Shafer completely turned around the Orange. It went from being a defense outside the top 100 to one that ranked top 20 in the nation over the span of a year. SU was even ranked in the top 10 in total defense in 2010. While that defensive prowess didn’t necessarily show in the Blue Raiders opening week 28-6 loss to Vanderbilt, the Orange offense is one that Shafer knows like the back of his hand. Essentially every Syracuse offensive skill position player was a member of a Shafer recruiting class, including quarterback Eric Dungey, running back Dontae Strickland and wideouts Erv Philips and Steve Ishmael. Shafer’s return to the Dome could cause problems for an offense that, personnel-wise, he constructed, however, the system that this unit is in right now is a lightyear different than what Shafer tried to build.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Blue Raiders struggled in week one as evident by the six they slapped on the scoreboard. But don’t dismiss their offense based off of one week. Quarterback Blake Stockstill is one of the premier talents in Conference USA and a guy that Dino Babers thinks has a chance to be an NFL QB. Stockstill won’t beat you on the ground, but his arm is the real deal. The redshirt junior has back-to-back seasons with at least 30 touchdown passes, despite missing three games last season. As for Stockstill’s main target, it’s his fellow redshirt junior Richie James. The Florida native entered 2017 as the nation’s leader in receptions per game as well as receiving yards per game. He continued to prove that with 10 receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown against Vanderbilt last week. With Orange safety Antwan Cordy’s status still up in the air, James has the potential for another monster game against a secondary that is likely missing one of its key guys this Saturday.