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A Syracuse Q&A with Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician

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Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

This week I'm talking Syracuse-NC State with John Cassillo, who is an editor and contributor for Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician. John's answered a few of my questions below, and you can find my answers to his questions at TNIAAM today.

BTP:  How has Syracuse's offense adjusted to AJ Long at quarterback? Are the Orange doing anything differently?

JC: Since SU switched offensive coordinators at the same time Long started appearing in games, it's tough to tell where the adjustments have come from. Long is a better passer than Terrel Hunt was, but as a runner, he doesn't possess the same strength (though he also has more speed). As a result, we've seen the Orange throw the football more, with mixed outcomes. The Florida State game was a refreshing surprise through the air, while the Wake game had some great moments as well -- especially when he got the ball to fellow true freshman Steve Ishmael. Against Clemson, we saw a very different approach -- heavy pass and a reliance on just one running back (Prince-Tyson Gulley) -- and that didn't necessary work too well.

BTP: George McDonald was demoted from his offensive coordinator position earlier in the season, and that seemed to be a tad awkward ... what exactly happened there? What'd it mean for the offensive unit?

JC: Covered a little bit of what it meant for the offense above, and to be honest, I'm not sure it would be entirely similar had Terrel Hunt not gotten injured. Basically, McDonald called a series of awful games -- I'd contend about 60 percent or so were pretty bad -- coming to a head with a Louisville loss a month ago where we probably couldn't have looked much worse. SOOO many bubble screens, a ton of avoiding the run and questionable calls all across the board made it a necessary decision for the team and Orange fans. Since Tim Lester took over, we're still seeing more passing, but there seems to be a better overall rhythm to the offense that had just never really occurred under McDonald. It hasn't changed our red zone struggles, however, which remain a huge point of contention.

BTP: What's the number one thing you'd like to see Syracuse improve over the final month of the regular season?

JC: Scoring in the red zone. I'd say the offense, in general, but that's far too broad. The one thing they could improve upon that would likely help us win football games would be that red zone execution. This team knows how to get into the red zone, and they even know how to get field goals while there, too. But for some reason, when they get inside the 20, they bog down immensely and forget how to continue advancing the football. It's among the main reasons why this team has struggled putting up points all year, and why it failed to make things a bit closer with teams like Maryland and Notre Dame.

BTP: What do you like about Syracuse's defense this year, and what's been hurting the Orange on that side of the ball?


JC: The defense has largely performed up to what's expected of them -- something that gets hidden by the 3-5 record and an offense that can't seem to score points. Syracuse is 16th in the country in turnovers forced, top-50 in total yards allowed, top-40 in points per game allowed and 21st in tackles for loss. This is very much the same type of team the Wolfpack saw last year: one that will be behind the line of scrimmage more often than not and will gladly sacrifice a large gain at times in favor of a shot at a TFL or turnover. They're aggressive, which makes up for their lack of size and speed at times, but that lack of physical gifts can also be a shortcoming against stronger teams. The secondary's a weakness, though I'd contend it's better than last year's. Still, you'll find receivers open a bunch against them, so passing the ball (quickly) isn't a bad strategy.

BTP:  Are there any key injuries we should know about, aside from Terrel Hunt?

JC: Do you want the full list? Though admittedly, this could change a bit. Ivan Foy is very likely to be out again, which hurts quite a bit on the offensive line. Ashton Broyld may not be 100 percent but could very well play at the H-back position, while Brisly Estime (another H-back) was seen in a walking boot following the Clemson game -- so that's not ideal. Safety Durell Eskridge got banged up against the Tigers as well, so I wouldn't be shocked if he didn't suit up. And it's unlikely we'll see wideout Ben Lewis, either, after he was hurt against Wake Forest a couple weeks back. There may be more, but those are the big names on that list. We've been pretty battered all season, which hasn't helped our week-to-week chances at all.