My 2022 SU Football preview - Part 12: the November schedule | Syracusefan.com

My 2022 SU Football preview - Part 12: the November schedule

SWC75

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Saturday November 5th TBA at PITTSBURGH TV: TBA

Pittsburgh was 11-3 last year, 8-1 in the conference and ACC champions. They beat us in the Dome 14-31. Pitt is ranked #17 in the writer’s poll, #16 in the coach’s #22 by Athlon and #34 by Lindy’s. Last year they finished #13 both polls.


The Syracuse-Pittsburgh series has been like a professional wrestling match, with one rival dominating for a long time, then the other doing the same. Unfortunately, Syracuse is on the matt and trying to find a way to get back on our feet before we get clobbered again. We played them ten times from 1916-30. That was their glory era under Pop Warner and Jock Sutherland and it was credible that we beat them twice and tied them twice, including a 24-3 win in Archbold in 1919, one of the great wins in SU history as it broke the Panther’s 34 game winning streak against college teams, (they lost to a military team in 1918). The series didn’t resume until 1955 and was very competitive for most of a decade, (We were 4-5 through 1963). Then the Panthers lost their growl and we dominated for most of a decade, going 7-2 through 1972 and winning by big scores like 51-13, 50-17 and 43-13. Then Johnny Majors took over. There were no limits to how many players you could recruit and in his first year, they recruited 76 of them, (I wonder the money came from). Those guys won the national championship as seniors and Pitt beat us 11 times in a row, including bad beatings in 1975, (0-38) and 1980 (6-43). Then Coach Mac got it turned back in our direction and we dominated for a generation, winning 16 times in 18 years, including our own streak of 11 wins in a row and some big scores like 41-10, 42-10, (twice) and 55-7. One of the years we didn’t win was a tie. But as we faded, Pitt started growling again and they have now owned us for a generation and in the last 20 years we’ve won only three times and lost by scores like 10-37, 14-45, 7-30 and, famously 61-76.

I think the reason for the momentum shifts is that western Pennsylvania and Ohio are prime recruiting areas and if one of the two schools out-recruits the other in those areas, they have an advantage and then winning and beating the other school maintains it. It changes when the dominant school gets complacent and declines while years of hard work finally pay off for the other school. But I think Pittsburgh, being naturally positioned in that area, has an advantage and it’s more important to us for them to get bad than it is to them for us to be bad. We’re still waiting.

Last year, Pitt had one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Kenny Pickett, who threw for 42Ds vs. 7 interceptions. But here comes Kedon Slovis from Southern California, where in three years he completed 68% of his passes for 58TDs and 24 interceptions. He’s trying to resurrect a career in which he had 30TDs and 9 picks as a freshman but only 28/15 in the two seasons since while his completion percentage has dropped from 71% to 65%. Going in the other direction is Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison, who had 100 catches for 1,593 yards and 17 scores. (The player to be named later hasn’t been named yet). But they still have 6-3 210 Jared Wayne who (47/658/6) and TIGHT END Gavin Bartholomew (28/326/4) and Akron transfer Konata Mumphfield, a freshman All-American last year with (61/751/8), so Slovis will have plenty of targets.

Pitt used to be known for its power running game but OC Mark Whipple turned them into a top-level passing team. He’s now moved on to Nebraska, replaced by Frank Cignetti, who previously had that position when Dion Lewis ran for 1,700 yards so there might be more of an emphasis on the running game this year. The top three rushers from last year return: Israel Abandikanda (123/651/7), Vincent Davis (142/593/4) and Rodney Hammond (102/504/5). In front of them return all five interior lineman.

Defensively, six All-ACC players return that 6th nationally against the run and 2nd in sacks with 54. Tackle Calijah Kancy was first team All-ACC with 13 TFLs. End Hakkabuck Baldonado (whatever happened to names like Bruce Smith and Aaron Donald?) was second team with 12. End Deslin Alexander was honorable mention. SirVocia Dennis (you couldn’t have called him Sam?) was second team with 9.5 TFLs among his 87 tackles. Safety Brandon Hill was another second-teamer while his partner Erick Hallett was honorable mention. But, “after Dennis, there is uncertainty at linebacker… The rest of the group lacks experience… Pittsburgh’s secondary is a mixed bag. While three starters return, the numbers were uninspiring.” The Panthers finished 115th in pass defense. But some of that may be because no one wanted to deal with their rush defense. They did have those 54 sacks.

Sam Scarton hit 17 of 21 field goals and 69 of 71 extra points for 120 points scored last year. Coach Pat Narduzzi has brought in an Australian rules player to be his punter, Sam Vander Harr. It will be interesting how he compares to our Australian rules kicker, Max von Marburg. Israel Abanikanda took a kickoff back 98 yards against Virginia. They said his name and he was gone…

Offense Defense
Scoring 41.4 (3rd) 23.6 (42nd)
Rushing 149.2 (77th) 89.3 (6th)
Passing 337.4 (8th) 264.3 (115th)
Total 486.6 (8th) 353.6 (39th)
Field Position 31.0 (22th) 28.3 (49th)
Turnover Margin +8 (25th)

I think Pitt will be just as good this year as they were last year. Pat Narduzzi has built this program into one that can regularly contend for the ACC title. Athlon quotes an opposing coach: “They play like Pat wants: they match his personality. This is a tough team. They embrace physicality.”

Saturday November 12th TBA vs. FLORIDA STATE at the Dome TV: TBA

Florida State was 5-7 and 4-4 in the conference last year. They beat us 30-33 in Tallahassee. They were not in anybody’s Top 25. Athlon has them at #36 and Lindy’s has them at #40.

Last year’s 5-7 record was the fourth consecutive losing record for this former powerhouse that, from 1977-2017 had the highest winning percentage of any major college team, (except for Boise State, which only joined Division 1A in 1996), winning national championships in 1993, 1999 and 2013. The question is: are they in a dormant period and about to re-emerge as a power or did Jimbo Fisher leave a sinking ship? It doesn’t seem to matter when we play them. We’ve beaten them twice in 14 games and Floyd Little was the star of one of them. But the last time they came to the Dome was the other time: our 2018 team beat them 30-7.

Athlon said that Coach Mike Norvell, despite having an 8-21 record, “actually enters his third season at Florida State with access to greater resources than any other Florida State coach in history. The university administration opened the checkbook wide this season, bringing in several new staff support members – analysts to help with game planning and assistants to help with recruiting – in an effort to catch up to other national powers.” Norvell’s part of the effort has bene to bring in large numbers of transfers. One opposing coach said “They’ve relied so much on transfers, especially on defense: you never really know what they’ve got out there and I don’t mean that as a compliment to their strategy.” We’re used to Florida State having players at every position we wish we had because they are a recruiting powerhouse. But now their line-up is full of guys who either weren’t starting elsewhere or were starring at a lower level.

They are satisfied with their quarterback, Jordan Travis, who led the team to a 5-2 record in the same he started. He was 122/194 (62.9) for 1,539 yards, 15TDs and 4 interceptions. He’ll be passing to four transfers, Mycah Pittman of Oregon, Johnny Wilson of Arizona State, Deuce Spann from Illinois and Winston Wright from West Virginia. Wright was a starter with 63 catches for 688 yards and 5TDs but he suffered a car accident in March and may not be able to play this year. The other had a total of 29 catches last year. Camren McDonald is the leading returning receiver with 24/243/2. He’s their TIGHT END. State allowed 36 sacks last year. Notre Dame transfer Dillon Gibbons will try to plug a leak at guard.

Travis is the leading returning rusher with 134/570/7, (putting aside the question of how much he would have if holding were called and late hits weren’t: FSU QB rips two crucial runs on game-winning drive: ‘They were not designed’
Treshaun Ward had flashy numbers: 81/515/4, as did Lawrence Toafili 32/163/1. Trey Benson, “who tore multiple knee ligaments at Oregon in 2020, showed physicality and burst. He could be the top back in a rotation with Ward and Toafili”.

“if there was one tangible area of improvement from year 1 to year 2 under Norvell it was the play of coordinator Adam Fuller’s defense. A unit that was one of the country in 2020 – and again through the first four games of 2021 – improved substantially during the final two months.” They lost “likely future NFL stalwart” Jermaine Johnson from the line along with end Keir Thomas. They combined for 18.5 sacks and 30 TFLs. State won the sweepstakes for Jared Verse, the Albany DE who looked so good against us last year. He had 14.5 sacks in 15 FCS games. Former UCF linebacker Tatum Bethune (108 tackles last year) will bolster the linebacking crew. “FCS’s defensive backfield is loaded with talent but has been prone to give up too many big plays”. (Maybe they need less talented players who tackle better.) Youth may have been the problem as they started a couple freshmen in key positions. Safety Jammie Robinson is probably their best player there.

Ryan Fitzgerald hit 10 of 13 field goals, the longest from 53 yards. Alex Mastromanno has a string of 93 consecutive punts without a touchback and a 42.7 average. “He downed 18 punts inside the 20 last season”. Mycah Pittman averaged 10.1 yards per punt return last season for Oregon.

Offense Defense
Scoring 27.6 (74th) 26.5 (68th)
Rushing 177.8 (52nd) 144.6 (55th)
Passing 201.6 (94th) 233.2 (74th)
Total 379.4 (80th) 377.8 (66th)
Field Position 25.6 (125th) 31.8 (112th)
Turnover Margin +1 (62nd)

Florida State won’t be Florida State again until their two deep is full of 4 and 5 star players they recruited. Now is the time to be beating them. But other than 2018, we haven’t been able to do it.


Saturday November 19th TBA at WAKE FOREST TV: TBA

Wake Forest was 11-3 overall and 7-2 in the conference, losing the ACC title game to Pittsburgh, 21-45. They beat us 37-40 in overtime in the Dome. They were ranked #15 by the writers and #14 by the coaches. This year they are ranked #22/#19 and #16 by Athlon and #18 by Lindy’s.

When we entered the ACC, Wake Forest was often described as the one team we have to beat every year. Some people still think of them that way. That’s because they remember Wake Forest in the 20th century, (you remember that century, right?):

)

We were the #23 winningest school and they were #109:
I-A Winning Percentage 1901-2000

Then Jim Grobe became their coach and by 2006, they were ACC champions. He was followed by the current coach, Dave Clawson, (who Dino Babers followed at Bowling Green), who got the team into the title game last year. In the 21st Century:

The Twenty-First Century Theme Song (Closing Credits) - Uncle Walter - Columbia

…they have been the 73rd winningest school while we have tumbled to #101:
I-A Winning Percentage 2001-2021
While we’ve had the worst conference record since we joined it at 22-52, they’ve been a bit better at 28-45. Scott Shafer had a perfect record against them: 13-0, 30-7 and 30-17. But Dino Babers is 2-4 against Dave Clawson and it was very close to being 1-5: 9-28, 43-64, 41-24, 39-30 (OT), 14-38, 37-40 (OT). That 39-30 game ended with this unforgettable play:

Trill Williams fumble return for touchdown in OT

So no, Wake isn’t a team we should be embarrassed to lose to. But they will continue to be hard to beat. And just as we finally get to play Louisville here after three years in their ballpark, Wake finally gets us at home after three years in the Dome.

Both Wake and Pitt were ‘Cinderella’ teams last year: normal also rans playing for the league title. Pitt won but they’ve lost Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison. Wake returns Sam Hartman and A.T. Perry back, along with most of their offense, which averaged 41 points a game last year, 4th in the country. They should be at least as good this year. Hartman completed 299 of 508 passes for 39TDs and 14 interceptions. The completion percentage (58.8%) and the interceptions could be better but that is still a fabulous year and those are numbers Garrett Shrader could only dream of. Hartman also rushed for 363 yards and 11TDs, so he accounted for 50 scores. Perry caught 71 balls for 1,293 yards and 15 TDs. He’s a big target at 6-5 206, (what Dino and Robert want Alford and Gadsden to become). Taylor Morin had 43/621/5 and Ke’Sahuwn Williams 27/404/3. Donavon Greene averaged 20.1 per catch on 29 catches before being injured two seasons ago and missing last year. “The Deacons finally returned to using the TIGHT END as a receiving threat last year, as Brandon Chapman and Blake Whiteheart combined for 27 catches and 6 touchdowns.”

They have a “running back by committee” and it isn’t a camel. Two of the top three rushers are back: Justice Ellison ran for 541 yard, (5.1) and 7 scores, Christian Turner 506 (4.0) and 5TDs. So are four of the five offensive linemen.

What continues to hold the defense back is their defense, which ranked 88th in scoring (28.9). They gave up 58 points in a loss to North Carolina, 56 to Army, (in a 70-56 win), 48 to Clemson and 42 to NC State. Clawson has brought back Jim Grobe’s defensive coordinator and former head coach at Charlotte, Brad Lambert. Rondell Bothroyd “was a glaring omission for the All-ACC teams”, (you tend to get omitted on a bad defense), who had 8 sacks from his end position. But there are only three other returning starters. Jasheen Davis, the other end, had 8.5 TFLs. Corners Gavin Holmes and Caelen Carson are “emerging stars.”

They’ve lost Nick Scriba, the NCAA’s all-time most accurate kicker with a 90% field goal rate, (80/89) and never missed on of 193 extra points. Punter Ivan Mora is recovering from a leg injury suffered in the Gator Bowl. He averaged an excellent 43.9 before the injury. Taylor Morin averaged 10 yards a punt return and 24.3 per kickoff return but may get some competition from the explosive Donavon Greene.

Offense Defense
Scoring 41.0 (4th) 28.9 (88th)
Rushing 160.5 (68th) 195.5 (111th)
Passing 307.4 (12th) 217.8 (49th)
Total 467.9 (11th) 413.3 (81st)
Field Position 31.4 (16th) 29.1 (71st)
Turnover Margin +9 (18th)

Our games with the Deacons have tended to be exciting, high scoring games and that should continue. It needs to if we are to have a chance to beat them. Clawson: “We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football here. People now when they play Wake Forest have a little more respect for who we are and what’s we’ve done.” It must be nice…

(8/9 update: QB Sam Hartman “was ruled out indefinitely after a non-football medical procedure”. That’s a gut-punch for Wake Forest’s hope this year. 8/22 update: Clawson said: “We’re optimistic that we are going to have him back this season and we’ll know a lot more in the next two weeks as to when that’s going to be.”)
Coach Dave Clawson of Wake Forest offers update on Sam Hartman: “We’re optimistic that we are going to have him back this season"

Saturday November 26th TBA at BOSTON COLLEGE TV: TBA

BC was 6-6 last year but only 2-6 in the conference. They weren’t ranked by either poll and aren’t to open this year, either. Lindy’s has them at #39 and Athlon at #42.

SU and BC are old rivals, having played in all but one year from 1961-2004, when the Eagles first flew to the ACC and, of course, every year since we joined them. We hold the all-time lead in the series, 33-22, thanks to our dominance in the Schwartzwalder and McPherson/Pasqualoni years. The two schools have split their last ten encounters.

Last year, BC’s season was torpedoed when their quarterback, Phil Jurkovec suffered a fractured wrist on his throwing hand. They went from 4-0 to 0-4 until he returned, still limited by his injury. He’s OK now so they should be a totally different team. Jurkovec is a tall QB, 6-5 214, (he was 226 last year), “has been compared to Ben Roethlisberger” and should go high among the quarterbacks in the next NFL draft. Phil, in 24 career games at Notre Dame and Boston College has completed 269 or 450 (59.8%) for 3,694 yards for 26 TDs and 9 interceptions. That approximates a full season and if he can put up those numbers, Boston College will be formidable.

He will have an excellent target in Zay Flowers, who in two years has 100 catches for 1,638 yards and 14TDs. If he and Phil are both healthy all season, he may have numbers like that for one year. Jaelen Gill had 24/269/1, Jaden Williams 19/213/3 and CJ Lewis 13/201/0. They like to use the TIGHT END Two years ago Hunter long caught 57/685/5 and last year Trae Barry had 21/362/4. They are gone but Head Coach Jeff Hafley hired Notre Dame TIGHT ENDS coach John McNulty to be his offensive coordinator an brought along with him George Takacs, 6-6 245, a four-star recruit who got caught up in the numbers in South Bend and caught 8 passes in three years but two went for scores. Athlon named him the team’s top newcomer: “While he hasn’t been a pass catching threat in year’s past, Takacs has the potential and should be name to watch in 2022.”

In Jurkovec’s absence, they discovered a fine running back in Pat Garwo, a 5-8 208 blowing ball who ran for 1,045 yards on 205 carries (5.1) for 7 TDs. Jurkovec was a running threat himself with 322 yards and 5scores in 50 carries. Alec Sinkfeld had 350 yards and 2 scores in 89 carries. The offensive line could be a problem, having lost four starters, including All-American Zion Johnson. But this will be the 12th game of the season. Baring a wave of injuries, they should have an experienced line by then.

They also have issues up front on defense, where they were 92nd in rushing defense and 96th in sacks. The one returning starter I tackle Cam Horsley. But Marcus Valdez had 5 sacks as an end and tackle Chibueze Onwuka is coming back from missing all last year with a torn Achilles tendon. They run a 4-2-5 and Kam Arnold and Vinnie DePalma both return. Arnold was their leading tackler with 61.

Athlon declares “The secondary has the potential to be something special in 2022. They were something special last year. BC was 3rd in the country in pass defense. “Josh DeBerry could be one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the ACC and safety Jaiden Woodbey has shown versatility in coverage and in run support…Both could play themselves into early round draft choices. Moreover Jason Maitre and CJ Burton are experienced defensive backs in what could be the ACC’s best secondary”. (If it isn’t ours – this could be an interesting battle.)

Their place kicker, Aaron Boumerhi, suffered a season-ending hip injury before the season. Connor Lytton won the competition to replace him with 11 of 12 field goals and 25/25 extra points. This year they have to replace their punter. The guy Lytton beat out, Danny Longman will battle Australian Sam Candotti for the job. (Aussie punters are becoming a popular as Japanese orchestra conductors used to be.) They are also in the market for a kick returner.

Offense Defense
Scoring 24.7 (93rd) 22.2 (31th)
Rushing 165.2 (59th) 170.8 (92th)
Passing 184.8 (106th) 173.5 (3rd)
Total 350.1 (103rd) 344.2 (28th)
Field Position 28.1 (89th) 29.2 (75th)
Turnover Margin -1 (74th)

Syracuse and Boston College will have similar teams – if SU can develop a passing game able to compete the teams on our schedule. Both teams may be trying to scratch out that last victory they need for a bowl game. An opposing coach: “They turned over the entire offensive staff almost but I don’t think it’s going to change what Jeff wants to do at all. So they’re going to focus on good TIGHT ENDS like the kid they just got from Notre Dame. Keep your linemen deep, hope you land on a good quarterback and then support your defense. His plan is easy to see but it’s the right one.”


I think the schedule divides into three groups: the five ranked teams, the five unranked Power 5 teams and two bad teams. Athlon ranks us 57th, Lindy’s 89th of 131 teams. That puts us ahead of Wagner, (a bad FCS team), Connecticut (129/128) and maybe Virginia (68/33) but behind Louisville (44/61), Purdue 31/32, NC State 12/15, Clemson (4/4), Notre Dame (7/8), Pittsburgh (22/34), Florida State (36/40), Wake Forest (16/18) and Boston College (43/39). If we can get the passing game going, put together a decent defensive front line and find a punter, we’ll be better than #57 and certainly #89. Louisville has had our number but we are playing them at the beginning, rather than the end of the season and in the Dome. Purdue’s and Virginia’s passing games will be a stiff test but our back 8 will be a stiff test for them, too, if we can get a pass rush and those games are in the Dome, too. We virtually always lose to NC State. I think Clemson and Notre Dame are over-rated as Top Ten teams but they will be good. Pitt may not be as good as last year but they are always tough for us. Florida State has become a paper tiger. We should have beat them last year and should this year. Wake won’t be nearly as good if they don’t have Sam Hartman. BC could be a very tough finale. We need to beat the two bad teams, at least 3 of the 5 unranked teams and pull off at least one upset of a ranked team, then get into one of those minor bowl games we so often win to finish 7-6.

I think we can do it.

After the season, (hopefully in January, not December), I’ll take a second look at these posts in my “Then and Now” series. I wonder what I’ll say…
 

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