Item: Forget eight wins; Scott Shafer’s original pre-summer goal seems far-fetched with six games to play, now losers of four straight the Orange would certainly settle for a goal of a third consecutive bowl appearance for the first time since 1997-99, but it’s going to take at least four top efforts in the last six games to accomplish that feat.
At the halfway point of the Syracuse football season with an open week left to boot, last Saturday’s loss to then-No. 1 Florida State (who shouldn’t have lost that spot while remaining undefeated, no matter its schedule) was more than the universally detested “moral victory,” and more than the defeat that dropped this year’s record to 2-4/0-2, and Coach Shafer’s two year mark to 9-10.
In fact, with six true freshmen making contributions throughout the afternoon, highlighted by the first two career touchdown passes from AJ Long to Steve Ishmael, the running and darting of tailback Erv Phillips, and the points produced by kicker Cole Murphy, there was a definitive sign of exactly the speedy, upgraded talent this staff is looking to bring into the program to compete in the ACC.
That those newcomer’s performances came against some of the top athletes in the conference and versus one of the best teams in the country, gives immediate reason for optimism for a continued steady upswing over the final half of the schedule, beginning with only the second true road test against fellow winless league foe Wake Forest (2-4, 0-2) Saturday afternoon (12:00 p.m. ET/ACCRSN) at Winston-Salem.
“We know that we’re a good team on verge of being a great team as far as our offense goes,” the level-headed Long said following his collegiate debut which produced 187 yards of total offense, and the two beautiful scoring strikes to Ishmael. “Basically, this week is just getting comfortable with each other and realizing that we can play with anybody in the country when we come to the game, and we have nothing to lose.”
No doubt all eyes will be on Long the rest of the way, just as they were on Terrel Hunt when he wrestled the job away from Drew Allen last season and barely guided the Orange to a post season berth. While the ‘Cuse defense has done its part all season in keeping the Orange in each game, despite Long’s optimistic outlook it’s the offense that has not been able to consistently get touchdowns inside the red zone in the four defeats, something that has to change in the remaining games that besides perhaps Clemson and Duke, are likely to be pretty even matchups against Wake, N.C. State, Pittsburgh, and Boston College.
“You always take the positives and you accentuate those and you go to work on them,” Shafer said in reference to what went well against Florida State and how to build off that the rest of the way. “You don’t feel good about (what you did correctly) when you lose. You feel horrible. (But) once we finish beating ourselves up when we look at the tape you then move forward and say, ‘You know what? This is good, this is pretty good, this is pretty good.’ Then you go after those (positives) hard and make them better the next week.”
Without a win since Sept. 13, it will be interesting to see if the meshing of the key underclassmen and the veteran starters, the team unity that Shafter praised following the FSU loss, will continue to grow this week and provide the dividend of the first of four victories needed to keep post season hopes alive.