Florida State Seminoles football (6-3, 4-3 ACC) is fresh off a 45-3 blowout victory over rival Miami (4-5, 2-3 ACC) while Syracuse (6-3, 3-2 ACC), once a top-15 team, are on a three-game losing streak after stumbling vs. the Pittsburgh Panthers in a 19-9 loss.
On this week’s episode of the Line of Scrimmage, where ahead of each game this football season, we’re giving you insight into Florida State’s opponents from those in the know, we spoke with Andy Pregler of Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician (or Nunes Magician, or TNIAAM, whatever suits your fancy.) Andy gives us insight into where the Orange stand at this point of the season, the source of its losing streak as of late, a prediction for Saturday and more.
Syracuse comes into the prime-time match-up with an identical record to FSU at 6-3, but has stumbled as of late. In some way Syracuse and FSU have taken similar paths, fast starts to the season with losses during a tough stretch. Coincidentally FSU’s toughest stretch arrived right as the injury bug hit the team. The Orange appears to be in a similar situation. Can we start off by just going over the key injuries Syracuse currently has and if you expect any of these players back on Saturday night?
If we were going to talk about the Syracuse injury report, we’re gonna need a lot more than 15 minutes. This team is losing people left and right. So a month ago, Syracuse had lost five ball players to season-ending injuries. And Dino Babers said, “well, we really need to nip this trend in the bud,” and since then, they have continued to lose more players for the season — at this point, the Orange are the walking wounded.
The biggest ones to know about with season-ending injuries, Chris Elmore, who was basically Syracuse’s Swiss Army Knife fullback went down to the first game of the year. Then Terry Lockett, defensive lineman, he’s out for the year and he was probably the best defensive lineman that Syracuse had coming into this year.
There’s a couple other depth pieces that are out for the year. So in general, this roster is really deep into the depth chart at this point in time. It’s slightly nerve racking to try to imagine Syracuse winning any game from here on out unless they get very lucky with the injury bug.
But the biggest one that will happen most recently is Garrett Williams. He is a projected NFL cornerback — he went out for the season two games ago. It’s just it’s just been really rough. And so quarterback Garrett Schrader is now added to that list. He’s not out for the season, but Dino Babers has been very coy about his injury status. Will he return? I would bet no.
On the offensive side of the ball. Garrett Shrader and the Syracuse offense came out really firing on all cylinders to start the season. Cuse is led by first-year offensive coordinator Robert Anae. What are his changes or influences on the offense that most stand out to you?
So last year, Syracuse was basically trying to run their best impression of an 11 personnel setup where they would trot out the same 11 bodies, they’d run very simple plays and just try to win via pace and that did not work very well.
So after firing offensive coordinator, Sterling Gilbert, we saw Syracuse basically take the pace all the way down, and run a traditional power running attack behind Shawn Tucker, who’s a very excellent running back and was able to get 100-yard games pretty consistently.
What we’ve seen this year is that a guy has brought in a much more modernized approach to offense using motions to try to create mismatches that allow for Garrett Schrader to make very easy throws, and force the defense to stop selling out for the running game.
The issue has been as of late, all the injuries are really starting to impact a timing and emotion-based offense where guys are not used to this system, you’re starting to see a lot of those struggles come from just the personnel of a first-year off like a new offensive coordinator coming in with an entirely revamped system coming into a group of guys that have never run something that’s complicated before.
Coming into the 2022 season, Sean Tucker was considered by many as the top running back in the ACC. The great thing about Tucker is his running Twitter diary from each game. In his words, he has not been pleased as of late. What’s caused the decline recently in the running game? Has the flow of the game dictated more passing? Are there other struggles?
I think that there’s it’s a two-fold approach. The injuries are definitely a big piece of this. So last year, Sean Tucker had a stretch where he was not getting 100-yard games that coincided with an injury to Chris Elmore because Elmore was such a huge piece in becoming a lead blocker out of the backfield for Tucker. And Tucker is the kind of guy who likes to make one cut, gain a head of steam, and then he’s almost impossible to bring down once he gets going.
The problem is that this year, we’ve seen in the last few games, he’s been unable to get going in any type of traditional running play. And we’ve seen that teams have really caught on to how Syracuse likes to use them out of the backfield and the passing attack.
Oronde Gadsden is the name we all know when it comes to the Syracuse receiving group. Do you expect a big game from him on Saturday and who are the other names to know here?
The issue for Syracuse says that it really is Gadsden and nobody else. The Syracuse receiving group has been hit really hard, with young players not getting playing time early, hitting the transfer portal, and Syracuse now basically having a very young receiving group and a couple of veterans who were never good enough to be first options now basically filling in those depth roles.
On defense, I typically like to start with the defensive line but I want to go in reverse with Syracuse. I think back to that first game beatdown of Louisville. Cuse was able to put the corners on an island and shut down the receivers. This allowed the rest of the defense to really key in on Malik Cunningham. The secondary is obviously not the same with the injuries, but is this unit still a strength for the defense? Or have injuries made this a weakness?
I think that ultimately, losing Garrett Williams weakens the secondary. You can’t lose an NFL quality cornerback who was able to basically be put on the number one receiving target and shut him down for the entire game or most of the game and not worry about it. The defense is going to struggle once that’s gone.
Now, what’s happened with Syracuse’s defense over the last few weeks since that game, is that the defensive line and the linebacking core have had enough injuries that they have neutralized,scrambling quarterbacks and neutralized any quarterback who likes to move around in the pocket by really creating pressure, that forces the quarterback to just sit back and have to throw the ball, you’re asking them to make throws that they’re not always comfortable with. And the last few weeks, we’ve seen quarterbacks pretty much be able to do whatever they want, because that pressure is not coming.
Moving up to the linebackers, Mikel Jones is the leader with some impressive numbers to back up his play. Marlowe Wax looks to be having a good season as well. What does this unit do well and if they struggle, what area will that show up on Saturday?
They are definitively the strength of the Syracuse defense at the moment and it’s because of Jones and it’s because of Wax, who are both guys that are so good at finding any sort of hole based off of the specific pressure or the specific protection or that is created by the defensive front and then just attacking that hole. But once you nullify those two guys, you’re dealing with a really young group that has shown mistakes both in coverage in pursuit of running plays
It’s a group that I think long-term will be fine but this year there are just some growing pains when those two guys get nullified or are taken out of the game with injuries.
Finally, the defensive line for Syracuse is one that I think can give FSU some problems. They’re fast and excel at finding the gaps. But they have also been susceptible to the running game. What does the defensive line have to do Saturday to be successful? And who do you look to have the biggest impact?
I think the first thing is that they all need to stay healthy because that is a group that just really cannot afford to lose any more bodies.
Caleb Okechukwu is somebody who, when given a mismatch can really take advantage. I really like his game, I think that he can have some really good impact just coming off the edges and really attacking the tackles on whichever side he gets lined up. The other guy to watch out for somebody who’s really impressed me this year is Kevin Darton. He’s out of Western Massachusetts, somebody who was not expected to see a lot of time, but his play warranted an extended look and then starts in the first game against Louisville. He was just blowing up the middle of Louisville’s offensive line and really forcing the league Cunningham to not have space to step up in the pocket, and I am hopeful that he can have one of those games against Florida State.
Alright, let’s hear it. Give me your prediction for Saturday. Which team hits seven wins first?
I think this is going to be a game that will be decided in the first quarter, and I really kind of hate saying that about an 8 p.m. start. I’m not saying that just because I want to go to bed and not stay up until 10 o’clock to cover the game. But the issue with Syracuse so far has been that the offensive rhythm has just not been there.
Syracuse needs to start fast because they’re at home. The Carrier Dome this year has been a definitive home-field advantage. When Syracuse has started hot. It’s one of the loudest stadiums that you will ever experience now that they’ve put the hard roof on. Somebody did not realize that a soft roof absorbs sound and a hard roof amplifies an echo sound, but they fixed that and it gets incredibly loud in there. The issue is that for a lot of fans the last few weeks there hasn’t been really a whole lot to cheer about early in games and the crowd has really not become an advantage.
If we see the same offensive struggles where Carson Del Rio Wilson is missing guys, or worse, turning the ball over and Florida State is able to get some traction going, they’re able to attack the middle of that Syracuse defense and they’re able to move the ball with little to no resistance, and then I think the crowd gets taken out of the game, and Syracuse continues to spiral mentally and you see this team really unable to get back into the game. They’ve not chased games very well under Babers. And so what I think you see happen is that Florida State wins in that situation. So my gut is that if Schrader plays Syracuse wins if Schrader sits Syracuse loses.