We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. This week we’re chatting with John Cassillo, the managing editor over at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, SBN’s blog for the Syracuse Orange. We spent some time talking about regression, thievery, and the unforgiving eternal darkness that is winter in any state north of Georgia.
TN: What’s your favorite part about winter in Syracuse? Is it the unbearable cold?
TNIAAM: Personally, I have no favorite part, which is why I moved to California a week after graduating about a decade ago. That said, locals are happy to tough out the frostbitten November through April months for the pretty beautiful May through (early) October they get in return. The cold is more unbearable if you’re not used to it, but winters do get well below freezing and lake effect snow can get pretty tough to deal with as well. Even those well acclimated to it all have their days that can and will break them.
TN: I live in West Palm Beach, and every time I go to Boca, the left lane is full of old people with New York tags. Do you guys not use the right lane in NY? Why do snowbirds even come down here? Y’all just stealin’ our orange juice?
TNIAAM: It’s well documented that Florida’s where New York goes to die -- and that goes double for South Florida. Every lane’s typically in use in New York, but the older you get, the less you care about said fact. Oldsters seem to head down to Florida for income tax breaks, weather and avoiding their families. Not my choice, but has been for millions.
TN: Tell us, what’s going on with Tommy DeVito? What’s his injury status, and if he can’t go, who will get the call?
TNIAAM: What’s wrong with DeVito is mostly due to the offensive line, which has allowed more sacks than any other this year and can’t run block enough to help take some pressure off of the passing attack. We replaced three of five starters from last year, and our starting center, Sam Heckel, has been out since the first half of the opener at Liberty. At this point, teams don’t even have to blitz our line. A four-man rush can beat seven blockers (and did a couple times last week) in less than three seconds.
That’s not to put it all on the line, however. DeVito’s made his fair share of typical young QB errors (intentional grounding, silly interceptions) and has failed to step up in the pocket as well as we expected him to. The line creates plenty of pressure of him, sure, but he creates his own with some happy feet and a bit of panic to his progressions -- something that’s only been exacerbated by the line’s struggles. The hits have taken their toll both physically and mentally. I wouldn’t be surprised if he can’t go on Saturday.
TN: What is different this year from last year that might be the reason for the regression we’re seeing from the Orange? Is it fixable?
TNIAAM: The issues this year are the line (described above), DeVito’s lack of ability to improvise (something Eric Dungey excelled doing) and the injury to defensive tackle McKinley Williams that has really put a spotlight on the inexperience at linebacker. Of those, the O-line issues are most noticeable because they derail what should be a run-first offense and prevent DeVito from being able to operate at the tempo Dino Babers would prefer. SU’s averaging one fewer point per possession this year, and about nine fewer plays per game. All of that adds up to struggles.
Add to that the fact that the inside defensive linemen aren’t taking up as much attention as they were last year, which leaves more blockers to take on the edge rushers (Alton Robinson, Kendall Coleman), and you can see how this team isn’t the 2018 edition of the Orange.
The O-line issues probably aren’t fixable this year unless the team’s willing to rotate in new guys. But as long as our current O-line coach (Mike Cavanaugh) is in his role, I wouldn’t expect too many changes. He’s probably gone this offseason as a result. The defensive concerns could be alleviated by Williams returning -- but TBD on that since he’s yet to play a snap this year.
TN: Introduce us to some standouts this year on both sides of the ball - who is playing well that ‘Nole fans should know?
TNIAAM: Based on the above, you’d think no one on this team’s playing well, but in actuality, there have been some quality performances so far this season. Michigan State transfer Trishton Jackson’s been a very effective deep threat and big-play receiver for Syracuse, collecting 38 catches for 575 yards and six touchdowns. Defensively, the aforementioned Robinson and Coleman may not have the gaudy sack numbers they did last year, but they’re still two of the more aggressive pass-rushers in the ACC, and Robinson’s a potential day one or two NFL Draft pick. Andre Cisco appears to be back in action, and is game-changing ballhawk for this defense.
TN: Since FSU and Syracuse are both basketball schools now, how’s Boeheim and his squad looking this year?
TNIAAM: As a basketball school, you surely know that Jim Boeheim’s team looks like... a Boeheim team. They’ll mostly play zone, but we may see some man-to-man this year. They’ll probably play at a slower pace than you’d prefer. And there’s probably a little more isolation ball than would be advisable. Still, there’s a shot this team winds up jacking up a lot of threes and playing with some pace, given the young personnel replacing four of last year’s top five scorers. SU’s defense may be its worst since 2016-17, but the offense could wind up making up for it. Quincy Guerrier’s a name to watch, as a potential upgrade on Oshae Brissett (who was already a solid college player).
TN: Ok, give us a score prediction for this game. For once, FSU is favored. How do you see this one playing out?
TNIAAM: With or without DeVito, it’s hard for me to see Syracuse coming out on top here. Despite their W-L record, the ‘Noles are a talented group, and Cam Akers should be able to shred this Orange run defense all afternoon. FSU’s aggressive enough up front to terrorize a Swiss cheese SU offensive line. Having Clayton Welch out there at quarterback may open up some running lanes, but he doesn’t have the same arm strength or accuracy as DeVito. I’m predicting something like 31-20.
A big thank you to John for taking the time to chat with us! You can find him on Twitter here. Click here to read our answers to his questions. Don’t forget to check out Nunes Magician for your Orange coverage needs.