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2015 Syracuse football: Uh-oh

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What do you do when the thing you're best at probably gets worse? The Orange have to figure that one out soon.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. One unit can sink an entire team

The Orange should improve in 2014. The team that won four of its final six returns most of the reasons.

We still don't know about the long-term prognosis. We don't know a ton about Scott Shafer's head coaching potential, and we don't know a ton about what offensive coordinator George McDonald wants to do. But we know that the Orange made a bowl in an inevitable down year, and we know they've got some interesting pieces.

-- The 2014 Syracuse preview

I was half-right.

Scott Shafer, former Stanford, Michigan, and Syracuse defensive coordinator, has engineered a slow-motion defensive renaissance. He inherited a defense that had ranked 86th in Def. S&P+ in 2008, and in four years as Doug Marrone's D.C., his Orange D ranked between 42nd and 63rd. Since he took over as head coach, Syracuse improved to 37th in 2013, then 33rd. His defense has combined big-play prevention with aggression.

His offense has been a disorganized mess. The days of Ryan Nassib throwing to Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales seem like a decade ago. Shafer hired ace recruiter George McDonald away from his post as Arkansas' receivers coach, and he had to give McDonald the offensive coordinator job to do it. But to the extent that McDonald had an offensive philosophy, it didn't really gel with Syracuse's personnel. He appeared to want a pass-first, up-tempo offense, but he had iffy passers and iffy receivers. Syracuse finished 2012 with one of the hottest offenses in the country and ranked 32nd in Off. S&P+ for the season. It fell to 88th in 2013, then 110th last year.

Any hopes for a third consecutive bowl appearance last fall were sabotaged by the offense. Incumbent quarterback Terrel Hunt struggled, then got hurt. New skill-position weapons didn't emerge. McDonald's pace-and-efficiency offense featured the former without much of the latter, which created quick three-and-outs.

After five games in 2014, McDonald was demoted. After the season, he moved to NC State.

Entering his third year, Shafer's Syracuse program is close to a crisis. The defense must replace four of its top five linemen, three of five linebackers, and the top four defensive backs. That means the pressure is on the offense, not only because it just dragged down the ship, but because the D is almost certain to regress.

Shafer's got the pedigree. His recruiting has been decent, and he's proved he has a strong defensive mind. But as with plenty of other defensive coordinators-turned-head coaches, offense is threatening to take him down.

When the season begins, offensive coordinator Tim Lester will have been on the job for about 10 months. They'll get a healthy Terrel Hunt back. We'll see if a more organized offense can help Shafer stave off hot-seat demons. I'm not optimistic.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 80
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
29-Aug Villanova N/A 27-26 W 46% -2.2 74%
13-Sep at Central Michigan 85 40-3 W 98% 50.3 100%
20-Sep Maryland 62 20-34 L 30% -12.2 7%
27-Sep vs. Notre Dame 34 15-31 L 25% -15.5 1%
3-Oct Louisville 23 6-28 L 40% -6.1 4%
11-Oct Florida State 15 20-38 L 32% -10.7 3%
18-Oct at Wake Forest 101 30-7 W 64% 8.2 88%
25-Oct at Clemson 14 6-16 L 35% -9.0 1%
1-Nov NC State 55 17-24 L 65% 9.3 47%
8-Nov Duke 51 10-27 L 44% -3.8 11%
22-Nov at Pittsburgh 43 7-30 L 16% -23.0 0%
29-Nov at Boston College 36 7-28 L 22% -17.7 1%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 21.2 110 23.2 33
Points Per Game 17.1 121 24.3 38

2. No chance against good teams

There are two ways to look at last season. On one hand, you could note that the offense started off well (6.1 yards per play in the first 4 games) before cratering (4.2 in the final 8) and that Syracuse went from interesting to awful.

Or you could just note that the Orange were competitive against mediocre teams and woeful against good ones.

  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 50): 28% (record: 0-6 | avg. score: Opp 29, Cuse 10)
  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. No. 51-plus): 58% (record: 3-3 | avg. score: Cuse 24, Opp 20)

The defense was more successful against lesser teams, as one would expect, but the offense was much more successful.

McDonald's demotion coincided with Hunt's injury, and none of three quarterbacks -- freshman AJ Long, redshirt freshman Austin Wilson, or sophomore Mitch Kimble -- was able to provide competent play. In Hunt's absence, the three combined to complete 52 percent of their passes for four touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and their struggles made it difficult to gauge the potential benefits of changing the offensive coordinator.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.73 122 IsoPPP+ 78.7 115
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.2% 121 Succ. Rt. + 95.2 86
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 32.0 105 Def. FP+ 99.0 77
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.3 123 Redzone S&P+ 93.7 82
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.4 ACTUAL 21 +4.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 116 109 89 115
RUSHING 93 86 83 90
PASSING 105 113 92 119
Standard Downs 107 102 110
Passing Downs 106 60 117
Q1 Rk 112 1st Down Rk 98
Q2 Rk 71 2nd Down Rk 114
Q3 Rk 62 3rd Down Rk 98
Q4 Rk 125

3. Wanted: big plays

Whether Hunt was at quarterback, or whether it was a grab bag of not-yet-ready youngsters, big plays were lacking. The Orange did have running backs Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore, and 17 rushes of 20-plus yards at least ranked in the middle of FBS (60th). But their 29 passes of 20-plus yards ranked 100th.

This was an offense predicated on quick passes to the perimeter, which should provide a high completion rate and the occasional break-one-tackle-and-go big play. But the completion rate was far below average considering the distance of the passes, and the broken tackles never really came.

Tim Lester comes from the Bill Cubit tree -- he was the quarterback when Cubit was tinkering with a newfound spread offense as Western Michigan offensive coordinator in the late-1990s, and he was Cubit's quarterbacks coach at WMU for two years in the mid-2000s. This is his first major coordinator position, but one assumes the tempo-and-short-passing tendencies didn't go out the window when McDonald left town. You have to have the personnel.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
AJ Long 6'0, 177 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8290 89 165 935 4 8 53.9% 17 9.3% 4.5
Terrel Hunt 6'3, 234 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8222 83 145 983 1 4 57.2% 3 2.0% 6.4
Austin Wilson 6'3, 217 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7984 28 50 253 0 4 56.0% 2 3.8% 4.3
Mitch Kimble
6 19 37 0 1 31.6% 1 5.0% 1.7
Kenterius Womack 6'3, 185 Fr. NR 0.8600








Eric Dungey 6'4, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8434








4. Welcome back, Terrel

Hunt isn't a perfect fit for a pass-first offense. His biggest asset is his ability to distract defenses with his legs -- not including sacks, he rushed about 10 times per game at more than 6.5 yards per carry -- but aside from a tidy performance against Central Michigan (20-for-30 passing, albeit for just 175 yards), Hunt wasn't very accurate. He hinted at accuracy in completing 61 percent in 2013, but he struggled to find a rhythm in 2014.

Still, if you're listing pure offensive assets without worrying about fit or identity, the list basically looks like this:

1. Offensive line
2. Hunt
3. Sophomore receiver Steve Ishmael

Despite woeful short-yardage success, Syracuse's line stats (67th in Adj. Line Yards, 49th in Adj. Sack Rate) were far better than the overall offensive stats. That's a good sign considering six players with starting experience return (90 career starts), even if three-year starting tackle Sean Hickey isn't one.

Lester should use Hunt's legs, especially near the goal line. Syracuse averaged just 3.3 points per scoring opportunity last fall, sixth-worst in the country. Opponent adjustments make that number look a little bit better, but the Orange had no confidence when it came to turning chances into points. With a good line and Hunt, that should be less of an issue, even if the offense isn't creating many chances.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Prince-Tyson Gulley RB
128 614 1 4.8 6.4 33.6% 2 2
Adonis Ameen-Moore RB
62 337 1 5.4 5.9 40.3% 0 0
Terrel Hunt QB 6'3, 234 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8222 49 324 6 6.6 5.5 51.0% 1 1
Ervin Philips HB 5'11, 179 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8211 45 194 0 4.3 3.2 42.2% 0 0
George Morris II RB 6'0, 194 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8577 35 101 0 2.9 6.0 17.1% 1 0
Devante McFarlane RB 6'0, 198 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8590 28 169 0 6.0 11.6 28.6% 0 0
AJ Long QB 6'0, 177 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8290 28 114 2 4.1 3.0 39.3% 5 1
Mitch Kimble QB
11 48 1 4.4 2.5 45.5% 1 0
Austin Wilson QB 6'3, 217 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7984 9 -1 0 -0.1 0.0% 1 0
Dontae Strickland RB 5'11, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8731
Tyrone Perkins RB 6'0, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8452







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jarrod West WR
76 49 700 64.5% 22.4% 42.1% 9.2 108 9.5 83.1
Ben Lewis HB 6'2, 208 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926 44 24 275 54.5% 12.9% 38.6% 6.3 -25 6.3 32.6
Steve Ishmael WR 6'2, 200 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8578 40 27 415 67.5% 11.8% 62.5% 10.4 92 10.3 49.3
Prince-Tyson Gulley RB
31 21 107 67.7% 9.1% 61.3% 3.5 -144 3.5 12.7
Adrian Flemming WR
24 13 109 54.2% 7.1% 50.0% 4.5 -54 4.4 12.9
Ashton Broyld HB 6'3, 221 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8544 23 15 174 65.2% 6.8% 56.5% 7.6 -7 7.5 20.7
Brisly Estime WR 5'9, 176 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8153 22 10 140 45.5% 6.5% 68.2% 6.4 10 6.5 16.6
Ervin Philips HB 5'11, 179 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8211 17 15 57 88.2% 5.0% 76.5% 3.4 -115 3.1 6.8
Josh Parris TE 6'4, 244 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8323 16 9 49 56.3% 4.7% 68.8% 3.1 -63 2.9 5.8
Jamal Custis WR 6'5, 223 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8473 8 4 15 50.0% 2.4% 50.0% 1.9 -36 1.9 1.8
Devante McFarlane RB 6'0, 193 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8590 7 4 49 57.1% 2.1% 57.1% 7.0 0 7.0 5.8
Kendall Moore TE 6'5, 239 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8503 7 4 31 57.1% 2.1% 42.9% 4.4 -18 4.4 3.7
Adonis Ameen-Moore RB
7 5 22 71.4% 2.1% 57.1% 3.1 -37 3.1 2.6
Sean Avant WR 5'10, 201 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8099 5 3 21 60.0% 1.5% 100.0% 4.2 -16 N/A 2.5
Alvin Cornelius WR 6'1, 192 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8111 3 3 42 100.0% 0.9% 33.3% 14.0 8 11.5 5.0
Cameron MacPherson TE 6'3, 247 Jr. NR NR
Tyler Provo TE 6'2, 223 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8104
Adly Enoicy WR 6'5, 227 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8537
Trey Dunkelberger TE 6'4, 230 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8013

5. Size and athleticism? Check.

This offense was desperate for big plays even with Gulley (6.4 highlight yards per opportunity), Ameen-Moore (5.9), and receiver Jarrod West (14.3 yards per catch). Now all three are gone. That's scary.

Between senior George Morris II, junior Devante McFarlane, and freshmen Dontae Strickland and Tyrone Perkins, there might be hope in the backfield -- not all four will be good, but odds are decent that one will be -- but size in the receiving corps could turn into an asset. Each of Syracuse's three leading returning receivers (Ben Lewis, Steve Ishmael, Ashton Broyld) goes at least 6'2 and 200 pounds, and players like tight end Josh Parris (6'4, 244) and redshirt freshman Adly Enoicy (6'5, 227) could play larger roles.

And in Ishmael, the Cuse might have a decent No. 1. The freshman from Miami never got untracked, but after a slow start (six catches for 83 yards in his first five games), Ishmael had some strong moments down the stretch (after Lester took over for McDonald). He had nine catches for 165 yards against Florida State and Wake Forest, then caught six for 97 against Pitt. He and little-used junior Alvin Cornelius finished spring atop the depth chart.

Last fall, "bubble screen" became an expletive for Syracuse fans. Screens and short passes were a McDonald staple, and that can work, but the Orange didn't have the personnel. Lester is promising more downfield looks, and if a running back emerges to form a nice threat with Hunt, that makes sense for taking advantage of a distracted defense. Still, the last system made sense on paper, too.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 100.9 2.51 3.25 35.8% 51.7% 22.4% 113.2 4.5% 7.1%
Rank 67 111 67 97 124 109 49 61 63
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Sean Hickey LT 38
Rob Trudo C 6'4, 307 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8002 33
Ivan Foy LT 6'5, 276 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7938 23
Nick Robinson LG 6'6, 292 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7444 20
John Miller C
10
Omari Palmer RT 6'3, 303 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726 10
Jason Emerich C 6'3, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8487 2
Alex Hayes LG 6'2, 303 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8156 1
Michael Lasker LT 6'5, 303 Sr. NR NR 1
Seamus Shanley RG 6'1, 276 Sr. NR NR 0
Jamar McGloster RT 6'7, 303 Jr. NR NR 0
Jon Burton RT 6'8, 321 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7926 0
Denzel Ward LT 6'8, 331 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8578
Aaron Roberts RG 6'4, 266 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8153
Cody Conway OL 6'6, 275 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8407
Andrejas Duerig OL 6'4, 280 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8377

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.74 13 IsoPPP+ 113.1 31
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.8% 83 Succ. Rt. + 101.0 58
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 26.2 127 Off. FP+ 94.0 123
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.6 7 Redzone S&P+ 116.5 21
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.4 ACTUAL 20.0 -0.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 27 46 59 31
RUSHING 31 26 53 10
PASSING 39 76 74 72
Standard Downs 30 56 17
Passing Downs 94 72 92
Q1 Rk 30 1st Down Rk 43
Q2 Rk 69 2nd Down Rk 20
Q3 Rk 11 3rd Down Rk 64
Q4 Rk 39

6. Conservative and disruptive (and starting over)

Syracuse created havoc and prevented big plays. That's not the most common combination.

The Orange almost never allowed big plays on standard downs, and when they either leveraged opponents into passing downs or found their backs against the red zone, they began attacking. The result: lots of sacks (sixth in passing downs sack rate) and lots of stops (seventh in points allowed per scoring opportunity).

After an iffy start, this formula created a stout defense. (The down side: combined with a nonexistent return game, it created sketchy field position for a handicapped offense.) The Orange allowed at least 6.4 yards per play in three of their first six games (against Maryland, Notre Dame, and Florida State) but more than 4.6 just once in the final six.

The passing downs pass rush, long a Shafer strength, thrived. Defenders got hands on passes. Syracuse nearly pulled off a top-30 ranking in Def. S&P+.

One has to figure another slow start is in the works. Syracuse had six players with at least six tackles for loss last year, but five are gone. The Orange had nine players with at least three passes defensed, and seven are gone. Shafer's defensive approach is sound and familiar, but of the 22 players on the post-spring two-deep, 12 were freshmen or sophomores (55 percent). Outside of the defensive line, that percentage rises to 71 percent (10 of 14).

Even with good coaching, youth means mistakes. The aggression might still be there, but there will be more big plays allowed.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 96 2.88 3.11 38.4% 71.1% 19.3% 108.2 3.5% 12.0%
Rank 83 62 46 56 89 66 49 91 6
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Micah Robinson DE
12 33.5 4.9% 6.0 2.0 0 5 0 1
Eric Crume NT
11 31.5 4.6% 9.0 2.0 0 4 1 0
Robert Welsh DE
12 27.5 4.0% 7.0 1.5 1 3 1 0
Ron Thompson DE 6'3, 255 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8920 12 24.5 3.6% 7.0 3.0 0 5 2 0
Ryan Sloan DT
8 13.0 1.9% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Wayne Williams NT 6'4, 325 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8476 5 6.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Marcus Coleman NT 6'1, 281 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7969 12 6.0 0.9% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
John Raymon DT 6'5, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8715 5 5.0 0.7% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Isaiah Johnson DE
12 4.5 0.7% 2.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Luke Arciniega DE 6'4, 247 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8215 4 4.0 0.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Donnie Simmons DE 6'2, 258 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8187 11 2.0 0.3% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Rony-Andre Charles NT 6'2, 309 Sr. NR NR
Lucas Albrecht DT 6'2, 251 Sr. NR NR
Chris Slayton DT 6'4, 289 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8619
Kayton Samuels NT 6'0, 306 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7983
Qaadir Sheppard DE 6'2, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8463
Amir Ealey DE 6'4, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8463
Jake Pickard DE 6'6, 231 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8352

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Cameron Lynch WLB
12 83.0 12.2% 12.0 7.0 0 3 1 0
Dyshawn Davis SLB
12 62.0 9.1% 6.0 0.0 0 2 3 0
Zaire Franklin MLB 6'0, 231 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8550 12 37.5 5.5% 5.0 2.0 0 2 1 0
Marqez Hodge WLB 5'11, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8214 9 33.5 4.9% 5.5 3.0 0 0 0 1
Josh Kirkland SLB
12 19.5 2.9% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Oliver Vigille SLB 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8216 11 5.5 0.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Thomas SLB 6'1, 205 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8596 9 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Parris Bennett SLB 6'0, 216 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8308 8 3.5 0.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Alryk Perry WLB 6'1, 215 So. NR NR
Colton Moskal MLB 6'0, 212 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8172
Ted Taylor LB 6'0, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8100
Troy Henderson Jr. LB 6'1, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8407








7. Wanted: playmakers

End Ron Thompson combined seven tackles for loss with five breakups. Linebackers Zaire Franklin and Marqez Hodge combined for 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Big John Raymon hinted at explosiveness -- he made only five tackles in five games after returning ahead of schedule from a knee injury, but two were behind the line.

There are some exciting components in the front seven, which should be comprised of an interesting mix of upperclassmen (Simmons, Raymon, nose tackle Wayne Williams) and fresh faces (redshirt freshmen Kayton Samuels and Chris Slayton, sophomores Franklin, Parris Bennett, and Jonathan Thomas). There is both experience and opportunity for incoming freshmen like ends Amir Ealey and Jake Pickard.

But in terms of playmaking, the bar is awfully high. Last year's front seven combined for 72 tackles for loss, 24.5 sacks, and 25 passes defensed. Only 37 percent of the TFLs, 45 percent of the sacks, and 28 percent of the PDs return.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Durell Eskridge FS
12 57.5 8.4% 0 0 1 3 0 0
Darius Kelly SS
12 50.0 7.3% 2 0 1 4 1 0
Ritchy Desir SS
12 50.0 7.3% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Brandon Reddish CB
12 37.5 5.5% 4 1 3 3 1 0
Julian Whigham CB 6'1, 187 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8016 11 24.5 3.6% 1.5 1.5 1 2 0 0
Corey Winfield CB 6'1, 181 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7988 12 13.5 2.0% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Antwan Cordy SS 5'8, 178 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800 11 7.5 1.1% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Wayne Morgan CB 5'11, 187 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8994 3 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chauncey Scissum FS 6'2, 206 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8259 12 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rodney Williams FS 5'10, 189 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7964 2 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Jackson CB 5'9, 170 Sr. NR NR
Eric Anthony SS 6'0, 194 Jr. NR NR
Juwan Dowels CB 5'10, 179 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8308
Cordell Hudson CB 5'11, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8145
Marquise Blair DB 6'4, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8690
Christopher Fredrick DB 6'0, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8342
Daivon Ellison DB 5'7, 164 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8234








8. Wanted: safeties

Syracuse spent time in the nickel, and it made sense, with a trio of experienced safeties. Durell Eskridge, Darius Kelly, and Ritchy Desir weren't incredible playmakers, but they were play-preventers, and they freed up the front seven to take risks. All three are gone, as is top cornerback Brandon Reddish.

The cornerback position seems reasonably well-stocked, with seniors Julian Whigham and Wayne Morgan and sophomore Corey Winfield. They are not amazing, but they're sound.

But the safety position might preclude Shafer from taking quite as many risks. At the end of the spring, sophomore Antwan Cordy was the first-stringer at strong safety while sophomore Chauncey Scissum and redshirt freshman Rodney Williams were co-starters at free safety. That might mean exciting things for 2016 and 2017, but it might be a scary proposition this fall.

Syracuse's defense pulled off a precarious balance in 2014, mixing bend-don't-break with the ability to make explosive plays. A younger 'Cuse defense might still be able to make some aggressive plays, but risk probably won't bring quite as much reward this time around.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Riley Dixon 6'5, 222 Sr. 75 42.4 4 27 23 66.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Cole Murphy 6'3, 191 So. 45 58.6 9 4 20.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cole Murphy 6'3, 191 So. 11-12 8-10 80.0% 5-6 83.3%
Ryan Norton 5'11, 186 Sr. 9-9 4-5 80.0% 0-2 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Ervin Philips KR 5'11, 179 So. 25 19.0 0
Prince-Tyson Gulley KR 5 19.6 0
Ritchy Desir PR 8 8.9 0
Brisly Estime PR 5'9, 176 Jr. 6 9.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 105
Field Goal Efficiency 59
Punt Return Efficiency 84
Kick Return Efficiency 115
Punt Efficiency 79
Kickoff Efficiency 99
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 108

9. Wanted: a return man

When your offense is inefficient, your defense bends before making stops, and your special teams stinks, you are virtually guaranteed to be a field position disaster. Sure enough, Syracuse's field position margin was a ghastly minus-5.8 yards per possession, 124th in the country and worst among power-conference teams.

Place-kicking seems to be in decent hands with sophomore Cole Murphy, but the field position components, the kicks and returns, are in no way guaranteed to improve. Murphy's kickoffs weren't that deep, opponents averaged 14.3 yards per punt return (122nd in the country), and the return game appears to still be lacking unless a freshman or redshirt freshman emerges. So ... don't expect miraculous improvement here.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
4-Sep Rhode Island NR
12-Sep Wake Forest 89
19-Sep Central Michigan 91
26-Sep LSU 8
10-Oct at South Florida 90
17-Oct at Virginia 46
24-Oct Pittsburgh 38
31-Oct at Florida State 17
7-Nov at Louisville 32
14-Nov Clemson 15
21-Nov at N.C. State 48
28-Nov Boston College 49
Five-Year F/+ Rk -1.7% (62)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 60 / 68
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -1 / 4.0
2014 TO Luck/Game -2.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 9 (7, 2)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 3.4 (-0.4)

10. It's hard to improve when your good unit loses this much

Syracuse's defense tried its best while the offense and special teams sabotaged every opportunity. An unpopular offensive coordinator was replaced mid-season, and the offense got worse (granted, with help from injuries); the offense should get more stable at quarterback but loses every decent big-play threat. And now the defense is going to feature about nine new starters.

When you finish 3-9 and rank 80th in F/+, it's hard to worry about turnover in personnel. Some new blood might not be a bad thing. Younger players like receiver Steve Ishmael, linebacker Zaire Franklin, and safety Antwan Cordy could turn out to be difference-makers.

Still, it's hard to believe odds are in Syracuse's favor. And in the 2015 ACC with its tons of top-50 squads, if the Orange improve, they'll still struggle to locate six wins. Even a 4-1 start might result in a 5-7 finish.

Long-term, you can see Shafer continuing to field strong defenses at Syracuse. But if this defense experiences a setback, the offense might not save the day, and this season could spiral on Shafer. Syracuse was just starting to build momentum under Doug Marrone, but he didn't leave a stocked cupboard. Shafer hasn't done much with what he found.