Roundtable: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup with Pittsburgh

first_img Published on October 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm Facebook Twitter Google+ Syracuse (2-3, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) returns home after back-to-back road losses to take on Pittsburgh (2-3, 0-1) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the Carrier Dome.Beat writers Joe Bloss, Sam Fortier, Matthew Gutierrez and Tomer Langer answer four questions surrounding the Orange.1. If Syracuse doesn’t win Saturday, are its bowl chances gone?Joe Bloss: Yes. If SU can’t beat Middle Tennessee State and Pitt at home, there’s no way it fulfills its best-case scenario to get to the unlikely minimum of five wins, which includes a W in one of these games: vs Clemson, at Miami, at Florida State or at Louisville. I’d be more confident playing the Powerball.Sam Fortier: Absolutely. If Syracuse’s bowl chances haven’t slipped away already, a home loss to Pittsburgh leaves the Orange in a nearly impossible spot to get to five wins.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textMatthew Gutierrez: Without a doubt. You could argue SU’s bowl chances are already gone unless it beats all of the teams around its level, then somehow upsets either Clemson, Miami, Florida State or Louisville. Good luck with that. So a loss against Pittsburgh at home would signal that this team has serious flaws and may not win another game this season.Tomer Langer: I wouldn’t say they’re 100-percent gone but they’d be fairly close to gone. Last year, a 2-3 Orange team lost its sixth game of the season to Wake Forest, a team that it had a four-game winning streak against. Then, a 2-4 SU team pulled off a shocking upset victory over Virginia Tech and pulled back to 4-4 the next week. Now, Clemson (the next opponent after Pittsburgh) isn’t Virginia Tech. Still, I wouldn’t totally count the Orange out with a loss, especially since it could conceivably sneak into a bowl game with just five wins give the school’s high APR.2. Syracuse’s defense has let up more rushing yards in each week as the season’s progressed. Does the trend end Saturday?J.B.: Yup. Pitt’s rushing attack isn’t all that impressive, especially compared to some of the ground games SU has faced in recent weeks. Some Orange defensive players have said there’s been a heightened effort in practice this week. And since I’m a sucker, I’ll say that’s true enough to see them end the trend.S.F.: It sounds strange to say the trend will end against a team that rushes on 61.9 percent of its plays and features a methodical, grinding offense, but Pitt is extremely unlikely to post more than 256 rushing yards. For one, that would double its season average (114.4 yards per game) and the Panthers’ leading rusher, Qadree Ollison, has only 221 yards himself this entire season. N.C. State piled up so many yards because it broke off big plays, but ranks Pittsburgh as the fourth-worst big-play offense in the nation. All this to say: The streak dies Saturday.M.G.: Yes, because Pitt averages only 114.4 rushing yards per game, much worse than SU’s fledgling ground game (143.2 yards per game). But that shouldn’t be taken as a positive. Syracuse had difficulties in stopping the N.C. State run, especially when ball carriers found the outside. Holding Pitt to fewer than 100 rushing yards would be a progression. The key is not so much to limit big runs, but to limit teams’ ability to grind the SU defense. N.C. State piled on short gain after short gain for long, run-heavy drives that left Syracuse depleted.T.L.: I agree with everyone else, that trend is going to end. Pittsburgh’s running game isn’t as strong as it was last year, and it’s not as strong as LSU or N.C. State. The Orange front seven should put the clamps down at home. That being said, the Panthers would be wise to try and run the ball. Controlling time of possession, as N.C. State has done in each of the last two seasons, is a great way to keep the SU offense at bay.3. With Cole Murphy’s struggles, do you see Sterling Hofrichter getting more chances to take kickoffs and field goals?J.B.: If I’m calling the shots, most definitely. Murphy hasn’t done much at all this season, at least from an outsider’s perspective, to earn more kicks. Hofrichter has shined as the punter. One of his high school coaches tells me he shined there as well, and not just as a punter. Give the kid a shot. His leg hasn’t disappointed yet.S.F.: Uh, yes. We’ve already seen Dino Babers’ crisis of confidence in Cole Murphy when he sent out Sterling Hofrichter for a 38-yard field goal last week, plus he’s taken five kickoffs. And, to me, the kickoffs are more concerning than the field goals, because Murphy has historically struggled away from the Dome and this is nothing new. An inability to keep the ball in bounds potentially marks about a 20-yard difference in starting field position for the Orange. For a real Football Guy, like Babers, who knows that every yard counts, the giving away of field position should be unacceptable and merit a long look at an option on the side.M.G.: We have already seen Hofrichter chip a 38-yard field goal at North Carolina State and take five kickoffs this season, so it’s on Babers’ mind. While Murphy has been solid on field goals (8-for-10), he has sent four kickoffs out of bounds and missed an extra point. What may be best is to take this on a case-by-case basis. In the Carrier Dome, let Murphy kick. On the road, where Murphy has historically struggled, let Hofrichter. The twist is kickoffs: Let Hofrichter take all of them.T.L.: Not really, especially not in the Carrier Dome. Maybe something changes, but for the better part of nearly a full season and a half, Babers has stuck by Murphy. There really isn’t a justifiable excuse for the amount of times Murphy has kicked the ball out of bounds on kickoffs, but it also hasn’t been a chronic issue yet. If it becomes one, that’s a different story. But given his strong leg and generally solid numbers inside the dome, I don’t see a change coming anytime soon.4. The running game has been anemic this season, so what needs to change for SU’s ground attack to thrive?J.B.: Dino Babers is right on this one. He’s consistently said the line’s younger guys need to grow up. They’re not strong enough. The personnel, it appears, is simply not there. The growth SU needs will not happen week to week but in the offseason. Are those four-star recruits here yet?S.F.: Who says the running game isn’t thriving? Quarterback Eric Dungey leads the team in rushes (68), yards (277) and ground touchdowns (seven). And he’s averaging 4.1 yards per carry! But, yeah, after that … it’s tough. Toss some video game health kits to the offensive line, I guess. The rushing-game blame belongs not on the shoulder-pads of Dontae Strickland or Moe Neal but to the unit Babers has characterized as too young and not physical enough. Guess the Orange’s only hope is to do what it does (pass) and let its quarterback do what he does best (extending plays with his feet).M.G.: The anemic run game is at no disservice to the running backs, who seem to take a handoff then be welcome by three defensive ends in the backfield every other carry. See: Bradley Chubb. At fault is the SU offensive line, which Babers said is young and not as physical as opponents. Youth and physicality are hard to improve in a short period of time, so I’m not sure there’s a clear answer to this. Babers said he doesn’t have a crystal ball, and neither do I. At this point, stick to your strengths and keep throwing the football. Oh, and keep using Dungey’s legs.T.L.: If SU was allowed to play with a 12th player on the field, maybe an extra offensive lineman, that might change things. Right now, there aren’t many holes to be found in the running game. The line is fairly inexperienced and young, but also just doesn’t do a great job of run blocking (it’s at least mediocre to good on pass blocking, depending on the opponent). Some of the tackles have been effective on rolling out as lead blockers on screen passes to the wide receivers, and maybe the running backs can get more involved in the passing game. But right now, there just isn’t really anywhere to go.center_img Commentslast_img

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