Orange Watch: From 0-2 to 2-0, what a difference a year makes for Syracuse football

Item: It was in this space a year ago, following opening season defeats to Big Ten members Penn State and Northwestern that we were admonishing so-called “fans” who were saying Scott Shafer’s hiring was a mistake.

With a rookie head coach on any level comes on-the-job training, even for a nuance as small as changing communication location from high atop the field as a defensive coordinator, to roaming up and down the sideline as the boss.

We all saw the trouble Scott Shafer got himself into in full view of field-level TV cameras at the end of first half of last season’s Clemson game, a current-era technology snapshot captured forever, part of his season-long baptism which morphed from an 0-2 start to successfully ending with a 7-6 record and a bowl victory over a Power Five opponent, and through another thumbs-up recruiting cycle of bringing aboard better talent to fit within the program’s philosophy and soothe the long term doubters.

Shafer

Shafer’s team is 2-0 to start the 2014 season

Even now 15 games into the job, including luckily avoiding the total embarrassment of losing to a FCS school, no matter how well coached and talented, and coming out and blasting Central Michigan 40-3 this past weekend to achieve 1/3 of the path towards bowl eligibility, Shafer consistently brings a unified mentality to the way he directs what unfolds.

“What a job by our coaches (in concocting the offensive and defensive game plans) getting those kids ready to play, and a phenomenal job by the players,” a relieved and pleased Shafer said after the one-sided performance in handing Central Michigan its first defeat.

» Related: Syracuse improves to 2-0 with win over Central Michigan

“(We’re back to being) a physical football team that our fan base can say, ‘okay they’re back, they’re playing physical, tough, hard-nosed football the way Syracuse kids should, and will, in the future’.”

Historically, in a tradition-rich program, Shafer’s squad currently finds itself in a position that only two other SU teams have been in since 1999, boasting a 2-0 record, and is a victory over Maryland away on Saturday in the Dome from becoming the first team since 1991 to begin a season 3-0, and only the seventh team in the program’s timeline dating back to the 1959 national championship team.

(Believe it or not, due to a combination of tough schedules for quality teams, and some not-so-good rosters over the past 56 years, only six Syracuse teams have started a season 3-0 since the ’59 championship season, 1959, 1960, 1967, 1975, 1987, 1991.)

The opponent standing in the way of a 3-0 program milestone Saturday is a familiar one, and not only because former Orange player (1979) and assistant coach (1980-90) Randy Edsell will be coming back to the Dome for the fifth time as an opposing head coach, this time with his 2-1 Maryland squad, now in the Big Ten.

SU has won the last five games in the series, and both the 1987 and 1991 Orangemen beat the Terrapins on route to 3-0 starts, and the ‘Cuse game plan in last season’s 20-3 win at College Park in a then-ACC matchup, mirrored that of this past Saturday’s big win – 242 yards rushing under the expert direction of Terrel Hunt, causing four turnovers while holding the Terps to 81 yards rushing, and sacking UM’s now-sixth year quarterback C.J. Brown three times.

“That’s what we have to be at Syracuse. We have to be a tough football team,” Shafer said after disposing of CMU and eyeing the improvement he expects weekly. “We’re going to have to take it to a new level to reach our goals as we go week-in, week-out, and we need to stay true to that formula as we get into this Maryland game plan.”

Those are certainly words all Syracuse “fans” can appreciate while enjoying the 2-0 start.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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