3-0 and half way to becoming bowl eligible this early in the season are two things we haven’t seen in a while. I am pleased thus far with how Scott Shafer and his staff have this young team playing. I know what you are thinking (we haven’t played anyone yet), however before we dismiss wins against Rhode Island and Wake Forest, lets think back to just a short time ago. Wins were hard to come by period, regardless of who we were playing. I am pleased to see this team winning games like these and building confidence and momentum going into what will be a stretch that will be very difficult. I think there are 5 keys to tomorrow’s game that are necessary to execute to continue the Orange’s hot start and a set up a showdown against LSU in week 4.
- Red Zone Offense – It is imperative to improve our red zone offense. We can’t settle for 3 (which is never guaranteed with this team anyways) and must find more ways to turn our trips in the redzone into 7 points. So far this season, out of 6 trips in the red zone, the Orange offense has only produced two touchdowns (1 rushing, 1 passing). They have had to settle for 4 field goals. That will eventually catch up and hurt them. When given an opportunity inside the 20, Tim Lester and Coach Shafer must take chances and and be creative to capitalize on these opportunities and not go conservative and take 3 points.
- Limit Turnovers – The offense must continue to protect the football and not turn it over. The Orange offense has only lost the football once so far in two contests on an interception against Rhode Island. Not turning the ball over helps this team in two specific ways. First, it takes some pressure off the defense and allows them to catch their breath, something that seemed to never happen last year. Also, it helps the offense to put drives together that will eat up some clock and keep the opponents offense off the field. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball! I have liked Eric Dungey’s decision making thus far, but as he faces some better defenses, it is key for him remember it is ok sometimes to take a sack or throw it away and have to punt the ball away, rather than force something, and make a bad decision and give the ball to your opponent and put your defense’s back up against a wall.
- Get Steve Ishmael involved in the Offense – Arguably, your best offensive weapon has been way too quite thus far in the season. Ishmael only has 4 receptions for 82 yards in two games, and 53 of those yards came on his catch and run for a touchdown last week. To me, this is not what you want to see out of an offense that has yet to face a high quality defense. I understand you want to limit the pressure being put on your freshman quarterback, but against Central Michigan is your last chance to really work on that in game chemistry between your best receiver and your freshman quarterback. Getting Ishmael the ball will also help his confidence after he watched Hunt go down, someone whom he had confidence in and was close to.
- Continue to Pressure the Quarterback – This has been the calling card for the Orange defense since Shafer’s arrival in Syracuse, and it is necessary to insure this team’s continued success. The Orange defense is tied for 37th in the country with 5 sacks after its first two games. By getting to the quarterback, you force him to go through his progressions quicker, increasing the opportunity of him making a mistake. You also impact the timing of the opponent’s offense, both the timing of the receiver’s routes as well as the timing of the quarterback getting the ball off. By getting pressure up front it can force the offense to put more people in the box to block, thus leaving less weapons to make a play and hurt you defensively.
- 3rd Down Defense – Number 1 priority is to get stops on 3rd down. Get off the field and get your offense the ball back. So far this year the Orange have allowed 8 3rd down conversions in 27 attempts. This may seem good, but most of these stops came against Rhode Island in week 1. It seemed at times last week that our defense gave up too many yards and 1st downs on 3rd down against Wake Forest. Forcing a lot of three and outs will allow your defense to keep their legs fresh for later in the game as well frustrate the other teams offense.
What do you think Syracuse has to do tomorrow to be successful and continue their early season success?