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Syracuse Orange preview

5/17/2015
Terrel Hunt returns and looks healthy leading the offense. AP Photo/Phil Sears

Just about everything that could go wrong did for coach Scott Shafer in his second season at the helm and the Orange’s second in the ACC. Injuries to QB Terrel Hunt and his O-line resulted in the league’s second-worst scoring offense. But a new-look system has promise—at least more than three wins’ worth.

Offense

How the Orange beat you: After 2013’s Texas Bowl win over Minnesota, Shafer and QB Terrel Hunt (1,638 pass yards, 500 rush yards, 17 TDs in ’13) were poised to make ’14 one of Syracuse’s best in recent memory. Then Hunt went down five games in with a fractured fibula, and the Orange lost six of their last seven with three different QBs, reaching 20 points only twice and ranking just ahead of Wake Forest for third-worst TD-per-drive rate in the FBS (11.3 percent). But Hunt is back, and he looked healthy during a spring that was spent learning coordinator Tim Lester’s simplified spread. The system will focus on downhill running and vertical routes, with the goal of simply handing Hunt the keys.

How you beat the Orange: Syracuse ranked 117th in the FBS in yards per pass attempt (5.8) in ’14 and had just 6 TD passes, tied for second fewest in the FBS. Much of that poor production can be attributed to losing Hunt (his three subs had 4 TDs against 13 INTs). But the Orange’s leading returning wide receiver, sophomore Steve Ishmael, had just 27 catches. They will need to finally see production from senior Ashton Broyld, who has bounced around from RB to WR and now H-back, and senior WR Alvin Cornelius, who had only3 catches in ’14.

Defense

How the Orange beat you: The offense couldn’t find the end zone, but it wasn’t for a lack of opportunities: The defense forced five turnovers in a 31-15 loss to Notre Dame and four in a 16-6 loss to Clemson. It finished 26th in total defense (349.2 ypg) and yards per play (5.0) in the FBS and No. 34 in sack rate (7.3 percent). But unlike the O, the D gets only three back and loses LB Cameron Lynch, who had team highs in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. Junior Ron Thompson is the only returner who started every game in ’14, and the DT should slide back to his natural rush end spot. Coordinator Chuck Bullough knows he must rely on underclassmen to make big leaps; he said this spring that sophomore LBs Parris Bennett and Zaire Franklin built on solid true freshman campaigns.

How you beat the Orange: Here’s a scary thought for Shafer: Coming off a season in which his D allowed 209.9 pass yards per game (ninth in the ACC) and 7.3 yards per attempt (12th), he has no scholarship juniors or seniors at safety. Durell Eskridge, the third-leading tackler, declared for the draft, and senior Darius Kelly, the fourth-leading tackler, graduated. SS Chauncey Scissum (4 tackles) and FS Rodney Williams, who played just two games due to a lower-body injury, are likely the next men up.