Item: Scott Shafer, his staff, and players rightfully remain resolute in chasing down preseason goals of postseason play despite a three game losing streak, with those three defeats coming in contrasting fashion; playing a top ten ranked team with a walk-on quarterback tough and losing by 10 (LSU), letting one get away and regressing into a three touchdown loss in the road debut to a non Power Five opponent (South Florida), and turning a 10 point fourth quarter lead into an agonizing triple overtime conference loss against a team seeking its first FBS victory of the season (Virginia). Ouch. Now, there’s three games left at home (beginning with longtime rival Pittsburgh (5-1, 3-0) on Saturday in the Dome – 12:00 p.m.ET / ESPNU), three on the road, and three wins needed to make a critical-for-the-program-to-move-forward bowl game.
The most noticeable public displays of Mark Coyle’s still relatively new job of guiding Syracuse athletics that he’s undertaken during his three months plus at Manley Field House, is observing and asking questions, lots of questions. Behind the scenes he’s plotting strategy and business plans with other university offices and his trusted senior management inner circle, while overseeing his own large department staff and respective head coaches, but when’s he out and about it’s continually scaling the learning curve in contact with a variety of constituents at a place he continually refers to as “special” among college athletic programs both in tradition and prominence.
From meeting with fans at special scheduled athletic department events, to touring the concourses of the Dome on game days, Coyle, like any good leader, is not only getting the pulse of the business he runs from both the CEO’s 10,000 foot level, but also the ground floor to better gauge the mindset of the critical customer base, in this case for Orange football, ever evolving in its third year of being amongst the ‘Big Boys’ of the Power Five conferences, minus many of the financial and other resources enjoyed by larger state public schools.
One intriguing comparison for Coyle to make as he does a full analysis of Syracuse football that he, like his two most immediate predecessors Jake Crouthamel and Daryl Gross, has been tasked to resurrect back into a more than occasional Top 25 caliber program, is at his most recent stop.
Look back at Boise State’s game at Virginia on Sept. 25, the night before the ‘Cuse hosted LSU, and this past Saturday’s painful evaporation of a 10 point, fourth quarter lead and subsequent triple OT loss to those same Cavaliers on the same field.
A mere 14 seconds into that game it was 7-0 Boise State, the result of a 21 yard ball-hawking, pick- six by the Boise defense. It was 17-7 after the first quarter of an eventual 56-14 Broncos blitz of 447 yards of offense, most of it passing, in essentially three quarters because of the large margin, and a defensive effort that held UVA to 273 yards all game (compared to the 393 yards UVA gained versus SU in four quarters plus three OT possessions) that combined to keep the home crowd on hand quiet most of the evening.
While Syracuse helped keep the nearly 40,000 on hand this past weekend frustrated with its 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter, not being able to put the game away earlier, combined with questionable officiating, bad tackling, lack of defensive adjustments, critical mental errors that resulted in game changing penalties, a few offensive near-misses here and there, and eventually a tired defense, caught up with the Orange as UVA rode the home crowd with the game’s change of momentum to what turned out to be the inevitable overtime finish.
(Boise State, by-the-way, has had its indoor football practice facility, mandatory for any Power Five conference program and already a big benefit to Orange athletics, since 2006, compared to Syracuse opening up the Ensley Athletic Center just this past winter.)
In last weekend’s game against Virginia, 16 of the 22 starters plus the kicker were underclassmen, and 25 underclassmen have started at least one game this season. Add the fact that 14 players (plus one holdover from the previous cycle) have verbally committed to a class that’s expected to add three to six more players prior to the Feb. 3 national signing day, and the talent base has slowly but surely grown to compete in the ACC.
Just how this year’s team rebounds from the current losing streak, first against a Pitt program its beaten just twice since 2004, the rest of the way, will answer the question if it will be the current coaching staff, or at least an enhanced staff, overseeing this young talent next season and beyond, or will Coyle make his first signature hire to overhaul the football program in his master plan to field a consistent winning product in a soon-to-be-renovated Dome?