UConn football is traveling north to face Syracuse this weekend. The Orange are 3-0 and just took down Florida State. To get an inside perspective on the Huskies’ old Big East rival, we talked to John Cassillo of Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, SB Nation’s Syracuse site.
You can read our Q&A with TNIAAM here.
1) [Syracuse alum and former assistant coach] Randy Edsall! As UConn’s head coach! Visiting Syracuse! Did you ever think you would see that man again? Can you describe your feelings about his unexpected return to the opposing sideline at the Carrier Dome?
Definitely thought there was a shot, if only because we saw him at Maryland and had the Terps on future schedules. Randy’s fine, I guess. Totally understand why UConn hired him and there’s a decent chance this works (to some extent) for the Huskies. The most surprising thing is probably that Connecticut actually went through with it.
2) Did the Syracuse defense catch Florida State in a tailspin or are there reasons to believe this side of the ball has improved from last year and they aren’t the team that gave up 42 to Western Michigan?
A little bit of both? Florida State’s offensive line has struggled mightily and is playing guards at tackle spots. So blitzing them pretty consistently all game will yield results for most teams. Still, the defense has managed to be more disruptive overall this year, and has shown significant progress from game one through three (Bill C.’s team profiles show a 15th percentile performance vs. Western Michigan, then 84th percentile against Wagner and 92nd in the FSU win).
Not sure if they’re necessarily as good as that most recent game. But if the blitz can keep up a similar success rate to what we’ve seen these last two weeks, it gives the secondary a better shot to make plays. If opposing quarterbacks have time against us, we’ll get carved up a bit. If not, then SU can continue to show better results on defense as the younger players in the secondary also keep gaining valuable experience.
3) Why did you play at Western Michigan? Can’t you pay them to come over and not have to do a return visit?
A lot of MAC teams have been getting home-and-homes lately, and as you might have guessed, Syracuse hasn’t exactly been in-demand for one-offs lately. Since we do recruit Michigan and have struggled to get fans to show up for Labor Day weekend openers against FCS teams, it wasn’t the worst idea to just call it even on the cost of the game. The Orange also aren’t great at getting out ahead of scheduling. It’s a long-running issue that’s only recently started to improve.
4) How would you describe Syracuse’s offensive style?
Up-tempo spread that’s only just starting to get things going now that the offensive line’s improved. Dino Babers’ scheme is typically run-focused, pulling in the defense only to exploit them in the passing game toward the sideline later. In its first two years at Syracuse, it was much more of an air-it-out system instead. We’re only just now starting to see something more resembling its intent.
5) Who’s expected to start at QB? How much of a drop off would you expect if you have to go to DeVito?
Eric Dungey’s likely to start, but admittedly, something’s probably been off with his shoulder since week one. Whether he’s 100-percent healthy or not, having him out there does make the offense run just a bit faster, and utilize the extra element of his mobility to keep defenses honest.
Tommy DeVito has the better arm of the two, so if forced to throw on UConn, he’s probably the more dangerous option. But you can’t discount the value of Dungey’s time in the system, and the intangible benefit of his toughness and leadership. DeVito getting extensive experience last week certainly helped him continue to progress. Still, he’s a little bit behind the value Dungey brings to the table.
6) Would the offensive strategy shift if Dungey is out? Is DeVito more of a pocket passer?
To some extent, yeah, As mentioned, DeVito’s a better passer and while he can run here and there, he operates almost solely in the pocket. Since he’s a redshirt freshman, you won’t just see him air it out, however. We probably run the ball quite a bit more with him under center than we do with Dungey.
7) What are your expectations for the Syracuse offense against this (not good) Husky defense?
I think we can score 40, even using a more conservative attack with DeVito under center. There’s also the potential for SU’s defense to regress and/or struggle to stop David Pindell since we’ve regularly had problems against mobile QBs. If UConn’s scoring, then that makes it even more likely we get 40.
8) How would you break down the strengths and weaknesses of the Orange defense?
This is year three for Syracuse running a Tampa-2 without the personnel to really do so. As a result, we’ve altered the idea quite a bit. In 2018, that’s meant leaning on the veteran defensive line (the strength of this group) to make up for very green linebackers and a secondary that’s part-experience, part-freshmen.
As mentioned, the strength of this defense is the blitz, and we’ll do a lot of it otherwise it exposes our biggest weakness: the secondary. That secondary has its bright spots: Cornerback Chris Fredrick has shown himself to be a pretty good cover man, Antwan Cordy is arguably our best individual defender and true freshman safety Andre Cisco already has three interceptions. But without a push from Chris Slayton and Kendall Coleman up front, they’re much less effective.
9) UConn’s running game has been alright, but the offense as a whole has mostly been the David Pindell show. Do you think the SU defense can contain him?
That’ll depend a lot on the linebackers, who really haven’t been tasked with a lot this year yet. SU has speed in the middle of the defense, so there’s a chance to try and contain him a bit with players like Kielan Whitner and Ryan Guthrie. However, we’re not necessarily built to stop mobile QBs. Pindell will get yards. It’s just a question of whether the hits eventually add up.
10) Game prediction?
The Vegas line opened at 27.5 points in favor of the Orange, and I thought that was a bit high. SU hasn’t had to face a player like Pindell yet this year, and I’m not sure they’ll be able to contain him well considering all of the blitzing they’re usually doing. Syracuse’s offense has enough firepower to take advantage of the Huskies’ defense, but this game could really be dictated by turnovers. If SU keeps forcing them and finds a way to maintain its distinct field position advantage (currently first in the FBS in average starting position), they win comfortably. If not, could be a tougher fight than most imagine. Still, I’ll go with a 41-27 Orange win.