Syracuse coach Scott Shafer remains optimistic despite skid
Syracuse football coach Scott Shafer retains a steely resolve despite four straight losses and fans taking to social media to vent their frustrations.
The losing streak comes on the heels of a 3-0 start at home and Saturday’s 23-20 loss in the Carrier Dome to then-No. 25 Pitt.
”The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” Shafer posted Tuesday on his Twitter account, quoting Winston Churchill and later crediting his wife, Missy, for passing along the phrase.
The Panthers, coached by Shafer’s friend Pat Narduzzi, used a play that the Orange (3-4, 1-2 ACC) have employed with great success – the fake kick. Last year, Orange punter Riley Dixon threw for a game-winning touchdown off a fake field goal and also ran for 42 yards off a fake punt, and last month he converted a fourth-and-4 on a fake field goal run against then-No. 8 LSU in a 34-24 loss.
Pitt turned the tables after Narduzzi feigned disgust at an incompletion on a third-and-7 play. Punter Ryan Winslow then completed a 12-yard pass from near midfield to linebacker Matt Galambos for a first down as the Orange were caught focusing on getting a good return. That kept alive what turned into a 19-play drive that started inside the Pitt 10, took more than nine minutes off the clock and ended with Chris Blewitt’s 25-yard field goal as time expired.
”Every loss hurts, not necessarily any more than another,” Shafer said Tuesday. ”You can’t lose sleep over a call. You have to redirect your mindset and say, `OK, those things are beyond us. Now we have to move forward.’ You never want to spend too much time looking back.”
Last year, Syracuse won its first two games and finished 3-9 as an unusual number of injuries took out key players on both sides of the ball. This year’s skid comes as Shafer has played an unusual number of underclassmen as he tries to build for the future.
In the Pittsburgh loss, 17 of 22 starters were underclassmen, and on the season freshmen have accounted for 73.8 percent of the offense (1,767 yards). Defensively, more than half of the Orange starters have been freshmen or sophomores, and at least seven starters on defense have been freshmen or sophomores in every game.
Freshman quarterback Eric Dungey has been the key offensively, completing 79 of 122 passes for 1,020 yards with 11 TDs and three interceptions. He’s also taken a beating, missing one game last month with a head injury after a violent helmet-to-helmet hit and enduring more shots to the head since his return.
Against the Panthers, Dungey was hit hard on a keeper on the first play of the second half and lay face-down and motionless on the turf for a bit as a hush fell over the crowd. He then quickly hopped up as if nothing had happened but was taken to the locker room to be evaluated. Dungey missed only three offensive plays before returning and remains a key to the remainder of the season.
”It’s like anything. When you’re in a position to make a decision that you are not a professional on, you go to the professionals, the people that have studied those things,” said Shafer, in his third season as head coach at Syracuse. ”When the doctors say no or the doctors say yes, we move on to the next play, the next series, the next game, the next season.”
Of the five games remaining on the schedule, two are against ACC teams that have been ranked all season: a road game at No. 17 Florida State (6-1, 4-1) on Saturday, and a home game against No. 3 Clemson (7-0, 4-0) in mid-November.
”Coach Shafer preaches all the time that this team is really strong,” sophomore wideout Steve Ishmael said. ”He sees a lot in us.”
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