Syracuse football: A season marred by offensive inefficiency and injuries

Syracuse has had all sorts of problems this year
Syracuse has had all sorts of problems this year

The Syracuse University sports world finds itself in the annual position of football season drawing to a close just as basketball season begins its trek towards March. Fresh off two wins against lesser competition in Kennesaw State and Hampton, Jim Boeheim’s squad will be looking to exorcise last season’s sour Round of 32 loss to Dayton. The competition level will pick up quickly when Syracuse plays Cal in the semifinals of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday while the other semifinal features Texas versus Iowa.

One day after the Orange hoops tips off against either the Longhorns or the Hawkeyes in Manhattan, Scott Shafer’s gridiron group travels to Pittsburgh for a slobber knocker with the Panthers. It’s been a long, strange season for the football team. Have a look.

When football season kicked off against Villanova, Shafer had to feel good that his squad possessed an asset that many other ACC teams didn’t: a returning starting quarterback. Terrel Hunt appeared to be coming into his own with last-second thrilling wins against Boston College and Minnesota in the Texas Bowl to cap last year. But the offense struggled to gain traction from its first game, a 27-26 2OT victory against FCS Villanova. The schedule was a bit unforgiving with three straight games against heavies Notre Dame, Louisville and defending national champion Florida State, but Syracuse’s offense was littered with experience at running back, wide receiver and along the offensive line.

» Related: Syracuse can only become relevant again by winning. Period.

Syracuse’s 28-6 home loss to Louisville was a tipping point in many ways. Hunt was lost to a fractured leg. Shafer’s confidence in offensive coordinator George McDonald’s play calling also appeared to break when he demoted McDonald to wide receivers coach and elevated Tim Lester to the OC position for the rest of the year. With Syracuse no longer bowl eligible and two road games remaining (at Boston College on November 29 the other), McDonald’s status is cloudy at best. The problem for Syracuse is McDonald’s recruiting connections in talent-rich Florida have reeled in a plethora of recruits including many in the upcoming 2015 class. If he chooses to leave, he’ll certainly have his pick of landing spots. And with Will Muschamp out at Florida, don’t be surprised to see McDonald wind up on the staff of the future Gators coach.

Before his leg injury, Hunt led the Orange with six rushing touchdowns. Not surprising given his size and strength. What does come as a shock is the last Syracuse running back to find the end zone was Adonis Ameen-Moore in the Villanova game. Prince-Tyson Gulley also scampered for a 65-yard TD against the Wildcats. Since then, not a single Orange running back has scored on the ground. The Syracuse defense has as many fumbles returned for touchdowns (two) on the year as its running backs have carrying the ball.

Hunt’s injury was just the start of the quarterback issues. Austin Wilson was knocked out of the Florida State game and didn’t return to action until four weeks later against Duke. Freshman AJ Long missed the Duke contest with a nerve issue so Mitch Kimble split snaps with Wilson against the Devils. Ten games, four quarterbacks. There’s an old adage that if a team has multiple quarterbacks, it doesn’t have any quarterbacks.

The injury bug wasn’t just relegated to the QB position. Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime, two of Syracuse’s most dynamic threats in the open field, have each missed multiple games to injury. If that weren’t enough, the offensive line was the epitome of Syracuse’s “next man up” motto as the season progressed.

There have been some bright spots this year. The defense has played extremely well and provided the offense with numerous chances to pull out wins. Freshman receiver Steve Ishmael is blossoming into the type of threat the Carrier Dome hasn’t seen since guys like Kevin Johnson, Quinton Spotwood, Jim Turner and Johnnie Morant were hauling in passes. The football team recently received a verbal commitment from 3-star defensive end Keivonnis Davis from Miami, FL. Shafer can thank none other than George McDonald for the latest Orange pledge.

Lastly, we here at The Juice Online would be remiss if we didn’t offer a happy birthday to Coach Boeheim, who turned 70 on Monday.

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About Steve Auger 165 Articles
Steve Auger is a freelance writer whose work has covered a variety of topics including sports, pets, parenting, healthy living, local government and human interest stories. Steve’s been a diehard Syracuse sports fan for over 25 years. To this day, the words “Smart takes the shot” still make him cringe. And according to Rutgers' fans, he's "not a take."