Halfway through the season, Syracuse coach Scott Shafer is up against it if he hopes to guide the Orange to the postseason again.
Syracuse has lost four straight after winning its first two games and is 0-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference as the Orange prepare for a road game against Wake Forest.
The good news is that the Demon Deacons have the same record. The not-so-good news is that they’re coming off a bye week, this is their first league home game, and they’ve won eight straight ACC home openers.
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”They’re really good on defense. They play really, really sound,” Tim Lester said as he prepared for just his second game as Syracuse offensive coordinator. ”They’ve been really stingy, so it’s going to be a heckuva challenge.”
”I’m sure they’ll have some wrinkles for us,” Shafer added.
Syracuse will have a new wrinkle, too – a freshman quarterback making his first college start. At least AJ Long received his indoctrination a week ago in relief in an 18-point home loss to then-No. 1 Florida State.
Long, a dual threat like injured starter Terrel Hunt, displayed a nice touch throwing and didn’t seem intimidated by the circumstances. Just the ninth true freshman to take snaps for the Orange at quarterback since freshmen became eligible in 1972, Long finished 16 of 27 for 167 yards and two TDs – both to fellow freshman Steve Ishmael – with two interceptions.
”You couldn’t write a script any better for a true freshman that everybody thought runs his mouth to come out and play the No. 1 team in the country and play a decent game,” Long said. ”You have to gather up all the positives and correct the negatives. We just have to get better for … Wake Forest.”
Long will be the third different starter in three games.
”I was really pleased,” Shafer said. ”You throw those kids into the fire, especially AJ, just the way he responded. I had a feeling that he wasn’t going to have any problems mentally, and just taking that approach that he’s just going out and playing football because he’s done that since day one.”
Hunt suffered a broken calf bone in a home loss to Louisville and is out at least another three weeks. Redshirt freshman Austin Wilson made his first college start last week, but he suffered a hard hit to the head in the second half and left the game. Shafer said Wilson will not play much against Wake Forest if he doesn’t get enough reps in practice.
Syracuse has played in a bowl game three of the past four years and won them all. Shafer set a goal of eight wins before the season, and with six games remaining the Orange will be hard-pressed to meet that goal.
Besides the Demon Deacons, Syracuse has road games remaining against Clemson, Boston College and Pitt, and home games against Duke and North Carolina State, which means reaching the postseason will be an uphill struggle.
”We’re at the midway point of the season, and we’re not where we wanted to be,” Shafer said. ”Now we have to wipe that slate clean and say we’re in the second half.”
At least there’s a second bye week in there for the battered Orange to maybe get healthier. Against Florida State, 10 players were out while receiver Ashton Broyld was doubtful with a lower body injury and did not play. Broyld, the team’s leading receiver before he was hurt, has missed three games.