Jared Smith and I exchanged questions about tomorrow night's Texas Bowl match-up between the Gophers and the Syracuse Orange.
If you are interested, my answers to his stellar questions can be found here. The questions, and Jared's answers are below.
JDMill: The Orange finished 6-6 and ended up 4-4 in the ACC. Tell us a little bit about what the expectations looked like for Syracuse heading into 2013 and how the season played out in light of those expectations.
Jared Smith: A: It is far to say the Orange pretty much met the fans expectations and exceeded national expectations for this season. A lot that had to do with what transpired last offseason when head coach Doug Marrone and most of his coaching staff left for the Buffalo Bills, while SU's starting quarterback, Ryan Nassib, top wide out, Alec Lemon, top offensive linemen, Justin Pugh, and best defensive player, Shamarko Thomas, all left for the NFL.
Before the season started, we all pretty much knew there were a lot of questions to be answered, especially at quarterback. Transfer Drew Allen, who sat behind two quality quarterbacks at Oklahoma the past four seasons, won the starting job over sophomore Terrel Hunt. But, after a pair of subpar performances in losses, which featured a lot of bad decisions by Allen, Hunt was given a shot to win the job and did so running away.
Now, Hunt didn't air it out like Nassib could, but he made plays with his feet and made a few big throws when needed (especially against Boston College) that helped the Orange win some games. That is all this SU team needed because it is pretty stacked at running back and has a pretty good defensive line and linebacking corps.
When you look at the Orange's schedule, you'll see four games in which they were dominated -- Northwestern, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State. That had to do with bad match-ups or the opposing team just being flat out better than SU (not many teams in the nation are beating Clemson or FSU). In the other games, Syracuse had to claw its way to a win and did so by beating the crap out of the opposing team.
That is how Syracuse won football games in 2013. It was not pretty, but it worked and helped the Orange get here when most college football experts figured they were going to miss the postseason this year.
JD: Scott Shafer just finished his first season at the helm after being the D-Coordinator under Doug Marrone for 4 years. What are your thoughts on Scott Shafer as head coach of the Orange?
JS: Scott Shafer is pretty awesome. Now, don't confuse that thought with SU fans believing he is the second-coming of Nick Saban. The thinking is more like, Shafer was exactly what the Orange fan base needed after, seemingly, having its "savior" (Marrone) ditch them a day before the prom.
Shafer is exciting, passionate, outgoing, off-the-cuff and is freakin amazing to have as a fan blog. You honestly have no idea what is going to come out of Shafer's mouth during an interview or press conference, but you always know you're going to leave that interview or press conference wanting to watch the football team or punch a wall.
As a head coach, Shafer is a smart dude and gets his players to play their butts off for him. Now, it seemed like his biggest downfall this season was figuring out how to be a head coach and dealing with losing so much talent from last year. A win Friday would mark a very successful first season under Shafer and keep the momentum going into the future. A loss, well, would just mean Shafer's press conference will be amazing.
JD: Syracuse never seemed to be too up or too down all season long. They needed all 12 games to get to 6 wins, but they never had a losing streak or a winning streak of more than 2 games. What do you attribute this to?
JS: The schedule worked in SU's favor, as it never had a stretch where it forced them to be out-matched for three straight games. Also, this Syracuse team is going to give you its best shot each and every time out.
As I mentioned above, the Orange were blown out in a few games because the other team was just flat-out more talented. Luckily, every time SU had an awful game it was able to rebound well the next week because its opponent was on the same level as them.
JD: Both Minnesota and Syracuse are teams that are seemingly better on defense than they are on offense. If Minnesota has a strength on O, it's the run game, where they rank 34th in the country with just over 200 yards/game. Syracuse has a stout run defense though, ranking 28th in the country giving up just shy of 140 yards/game. What makes the Syracuse run defense so good and what gives you confidence that they can stop the Gophers run game?
JS: Syracuse run defense is good because its defensive line has performed better than most thought it would this year. Defensive tackle Jay Bromley has been one of the best in the nation at his position, while defensive end Robert Welsh and Micah Robinson have been good as well.
With a good defensive front, it helped SU's biggest strength -- the linebacking corps. Starters Cameron Lynch (OLB), Marquis Spruill (MLB) and Dyshawn Davis (OLB) could be the best group at their position in the ACC -- well, besides whatever FSU is tossing out there -- and there backups are made-up of a few JUCO players that had playing time before they came to SU.
Honestly, the key for Minnesota's offense will be how well it moves the ball through the air. I say this because SU's secondary is not good and can make a lot of quarterbacks look like All-Americans.
JD: Syracuse scores just over 22 ppg, while Minnesota gives up about that same amount on defense. What are the strengths of the Orange offense and what will they have to do to score points on the Gophers?
JS: The strength of the Syracuse offense is RUNNING THE BALL! RUN! RUN! RUN! That is what all of us have been preaching all year long.
Too many times the Orange got a bit pass happy with its bubble screens and bad routes, and it is tough to understand why when Hunt is still developing as a passer and their best playmakers are first-stringer Jerome Smith, who will be in the NFL next year, backup Prince-Tyson Gulley and third-stringer that runs like a starter George Morris II. Plus, Hunt's best attribute is his ability to run the spread option.
Syracuse is most successful on offense when it is pounding the ball down an opponent's throat, converting the third-down-and-short scenarios and mixing-in the passing game.
JD: Name a couple of players on the Orange offense that Gophers fans should keep an eye out for.
JS: Well, you're going to need to stop running back Jerome Smith, who could easily be Syracuse's best player. This will be Smith's last game, as he already announced he will not be coming back next season. Minnesota will also need to contain Hunt's ability to run for first downs. He has been good at that and can keep the chains moving when needed.
JD: Name a couple of players on the Orange defense that Gopher fans can expect to hear from on Friday night.
JS: Jay Bromley is going to more than likely be highlighted by the television broadcast as he is a great story and a very solid player for Syracuse. Also, look out for Robert Welsh, who has been sneaky good on the pass rush this season.
JD: Prediction time. Who wins? How do they make it happen? What is the final score?
JS: Honestly, not knowing much about Minnesota and how they match-up, I'll say I am going to pick the Orange to win, 24-20. I just get a feeling that maybe the Gophers aren't as pumped up about this game as the Orange will be. Scott Shafer will get his team to come out and play hard. It will all come down to the match-up and playmaking ability of Minnesota. If you guys can get out to a fast start then SU is in trouble. However, if the Orange can stay in it and run the football, you guys will be in trouble. I hope the latter happens.
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