Now that Syracuse has finished its non-conference schedule, we decided to grade the team’s performance:
I got to this grade by averaging the scores of the first two games compared to the last two. Syracuse struggled putting points on the board against Northwestern and Penn State, averaging just 22 points. Drew Allen struggled in his first two starts as quarterback, firing an NCAA-leading six interceptions. The running game suffered as a result, as the Orange was limited to 71 yards on the ground against Penn State and 83 yards against Northwestern if you take out a meaningless garbage time touchdown drive. In comes Terrel Hunt and suddenly the SU offense is humming. The Orange put up 54 and 52 points against Wagner and Tulane, and Hunt has completed 33 of 43 passes for 468 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The Syracuse rushing game has opened up, too, as the team has averaged 217.5 in the last two games. Now, the inferior competition has to be taken into account when assessing Hunt, but keep in mind that Allen started against Wagner and in his first three drives was 3 for 6 for -1 yards as Syracuse had three straight three-and-out drives. So, the grade in the first two games was a C, and the grade in the last two games was an A. Average that, and you get a B.
We all know by this point that defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough likes to call blitzes. It’s worked to a certain extent, as the Orange has come up with 11 sacks and allowed just 109.3 yards per game on the ground. But everything comes at an expense. The frequent blitzing has opened up one-on-one opportunities through the air, and the secondary has given up some big numbers to Northwestern and Penn State. In his first career college start, Christian Hackenburg threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 9.0 yards per throw. Northwestern absolutely shredded the SU secondary in Evanston, as the two quarterbacks combined for 375 yards, four touchdowns and 10.1 yards per throw (missing only seven passes the entire afternoon). Even Tulane had some success through the air, as Nick Montana threw for 213 yards. That being said, the Orange is still only giving up 22.0 points per game, which is respectable.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Syracuse had one of its best special teams performances in recent memory against Tulane, blocked a pair of punts, recovering a fumble on a punt and blocked a field goal. For as much as the Orange struggled in this unit last year, special teams has actually been a plus this season. Ritchy Desir has been solid on punt returns and the Orange is getting some decent production from Ryan Norton after Ross Krautman went down with a season-ending injury.