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Syracuse must reshape offense to save season

10/6/2014

So this is what it has come down to for Syracuse on the biggest weekend of the year.

New starting quarterback.

New offensive coordinator.

Against No. 1 Florida State, a team that beat the Orange 59-3 last year.

Things have mushroomed quite quickly for the Orange. You feel for starting quarterback Terrel Hunt, out four-to-six weeks with a broken fibula. There is nothing Syracuse can do about that but forge ahead. However, coach Scott Shafer had no choice but to change offensive coordinators, stripping George McDonald and promoting Tim Lester, no matter how terrible the timing.

Syracuse has been abysmal on offense in its last two games and needs a spark, and maybe even a new direction. Granted, the opponents have not exactly been Little Sisters of the Poor and Directional U. But Syracuse had plenty of opportunities to score against both Notre Dame and Louisville, and blew them with mind-numbingly awful execution. Especially in the red zone.

Two weeks ago against Notre Dame, Syracuse had three drives stall inside the Notre Dame 25. The Orange came away with three points. The Syracuse defense forced five turnovers. One was a pick six. The other four turned into seven total points.

There were even more opportunities last week against Louisville. Three times, Syracuse ended up with the ball with first-and-goal from inside the Louisville 6. The Orange ended up with two field goals. They also took two safeties and could not sustain any drives, holding the ball for 23 total minutes.

Given the talent and experience returning on offense, it is simply unacceptable for Syracuse to look so ragged, even against high-quality opponents. McDonald promised a more high-tempo attack, but you cannot run a high-tempo attack when you rank No. 13 in the ACC in first downs. Syracuse has prided itself on its smashmouth style, a big reason why the Orange have gone to bowl teams three times in the last four seasons. Yet that is not the style Syracuse opted for at the outset.

Granted, there have been injuries on the offensive line that have hurt the continuity. Several playmakers, including Brisly Estime, Ashton Broyld and tight end Josh Parris have dealt with injuries, too. But the Syracuse offense should not be regressing, not with Hunt back and a loaded backfield. The defense -- the group with all the question marks headed into the season -- has played well enough to keep Syracuse in games. It is the offense that has let the team down.

That is why Shafer could not wait any longer to make a change. Obviously, the Syracuse offense will have to be judged on a sliding scale Saturday, given the opponent and new starter behind center. Despite the inconsistency, Hunt still gives Syracuse its best chance to win. He still is the team's biggest threat, given his ability to both run and pass.

How Syracuse adjusts without him with be a story line to watch. But Shafer had to do something before the season spun away completely. The Orange have Florida State and Clemson in the next three weeks. But the rest of the games remain winnable, even with Hunt out -- against Wake Forest, NC State, Duke, Pitt and BC. Lester is the quarterbacks coach, so he above anybody on staff has an idea of what he needs to do to put his new quarterback in position to succeed.

The season is riding on that.