Beat writers grade position groups, team and Scott Shafer at midway point

first_imgWith Syracuse (3-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) halfway through its season and on a three-game skid, Daily Orange beat writers Sam Blum, Jesse Dougherty, Matt Schneidman and Paul Schwedelson grade each position group, weigh Scott Shafer’s influence six games in and look ahead to the back end of the 2015 season.The Orange next faces No. 25 Pittsburgh (5-1, 3-0) on Saturday at noon in the Carrier Dome, as SU looks to avoid dipping below .500 for the first time this season.Position-by-position breakdownQuarterbacks: B+AdvertisementThis is placeholder textFreshman Eric Dungey has salvaged a position group that lost Terrel Hunt and AJ Long due to a torn Achilles and concussions, respectively. Dungey has thrown for 810 yards and nine touchdowns, as well as rushing for 222 yards and three scores. Even walk-on Zack Mahoney, with three touchdown passes in the second half against LSU, helps bump this grade up.Running backs: B-The two junior tailbacks, Devante McFarlane and George Morris, haven’t been anything spectacular. They’ve combined for 249 yards and no touchdowns on the ground this season, but the position has received a lift from freshman Jordan Fredericks. The Lawrence (New York) High School product has 269 yards and three touchdowns on the year.Wide receivers: B-Aside from Steve Ishmael and Brisly Estime, SU wide receivers have eight total receptions. The top two targets have 28 catches for a combined 467 yards and five touchdowns, bailing out a unit that has little depth to provide Dungey with.Hybrids: BEven with starter Ervin Philips on the sideline for three and a half games, freshman Dontae Strickland chipped in three touchdowns. And with junior Ben Lewis rounding into form with 40 receiving yards against UVA, a group that’s totaled seven touchdowns is becoming the multi-dimensional position that SU intended.Tight Ends: D+The three tight ends that have played — Josh Parris, Kendall Moore and Cameron MacPherson — have only combined for 12 catches, 102 yards and no touchdowns. The group has been ineffective in the pass game and hasn’t necessarily aided the rushing attack by blocking either.Offensive line: CThe line hasn’t been as injury-prone as last year, but it hasn’t paved the way for many big runs. Orange quarterbacks have also taken 11 sacks in six games, which isn’t bad, but Dungey will need even more time if Shafer wants him to scramble less.Defensive line: BDefensive end Ron Thompson might be the best player on the team and the D-line has accounted for 10 of Syracuse’s 15 sacks. Add in two interceptions, and a group with two starting redshirt freshmen and another first-year player in Qaadir Sheppard seeing significant minutes, defensive line coach Tim Daoust has made due.Linebackers: BThere was a question as to who’d fill the third linebacker spot before the season, but Parris Bennett now leads the team in tackles with 41. Captain Zaire Franklin is third with 32 and Marqez Hodge is sixth with 21. Apart from LSU’s Leonard Fournette and USF’s Marlon Mack, a running back hasn’t consistently broken the second level against this unit.Secondary: DFour defensive backs who saw significant time last year graduated or left for the NFL, but this season has been worse than expected. Syracuse has allowed 252.2 passing yards per game and Julian Whigham specifically has been burned deep in multiple crucial situations.Returners: BThis is basically Estime’s category and his kick return average is just a hair better than a touchback would be. His punt returns have been better, a 21.75-yard average, but that too is skewed by a 74-yard return touchdown against Rhode Island. All considered, though, it’s not too bad for a one-man unit.Punter: A+The #DixonForHeisman campaign has reached new heights as Riley Dixon has run for a first down in the last three games. Add on an average punt of 44.5 yards and 14 placed inside the 20, and you’ve got the highest-rated position on the team.Kicker: B-After hitting seven of his first nine attempts, Cole Murphy pushed two 48-yarders wide on Saturday. He’s at 66.7 percent from the year, which is technically a D, but kickoff specialist Ryan Norton has been a touchback machine this year.First-half assessments and updated season predictionsSam BlumThat’s What I SaidOriginal season prediction: 6-6Updated season prediction: 6-6What’s the use for a prediction if you can change it halfway through? The Orange remains on pace for a .500 record and bowl eligibility, but the back half of the schedule is far tougher than the front. To get to the postseason, Syracuse needs to beat the teams it can — Pittsburgh, North Carolina State and Boston College — and show the same level of play that gained it respect following its down-to-the-wire loss to LSU.Scott Shafer: A-The best players on SU’s roster are freshmen and sophomores, and those are Shafer’s first two classes to make an appearance in an Orange uniform. It’s clear he’s bringing in the right guys that — as cliché as it might sound — play hard for him. The difference between 4-2 and 3-3 for Syracuse right now is a matter of inches, and the coaching staff has done a good job in the face of adversity early this season.Jesse DoughertyThe Doctor’s InOriginal season prediction: 5-7Updated season prediction: 4-8At the start of the season, it looked like Syracuse could beat both Virginia and South Florida before diving into the meat of its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule. The Orange wasn’t able to win either game and will now struggle mightily until it hosts Boston College in the final week of the season. That will be the fourth and final win of SU’s season, but permanent damage will already be done.Scott Shafer: B-All things considered, Scott Shafer isn’t on the hook for all of Syracuse’s deficiencies and 3-3 isn’t an awful record for a team that lost its starting quarterback in Week 1. The Orange has been bolstered by strong play from underclassmen skill players on offense, and halting a current slide from its defense will be the key in halting a three-game losing streak. Shafer’s season will be defined by how well the team competes against some of the conference’s toughest teams. More games like the 34-24 loss to then-No. 8 LSU will help the coach’s reputation. Rolling over could make 2015 look a lot like 3-9 2014.Matt SchneidmanClass is in SessionOriginal season prediction: 5-7Updated prediction: 5-7The last two losses were partial daggers in once-promising bowl hopes. Letting up a combined 89 points to two consecutive one-win teams just won’t cut it and Syracuse’s secondary struggles will be exposed even more against the likes of Florida State, Clemson and Louisville.Scott Shafer: B-The SU head coach can only do so much about another quarterbacking corps debilitated by injury. The presumed top two after last season — Terrel Hunt and AJ Long — well, yeah. And who knows how many more big hits Eric Dungey can take. Add in injuries to Ervin Philips, Rob Trudo, Steve Ishmael and 32.2 points per game isn’t bad. But allowing 27.8 points per game, especially considering a shutout in game one, definitely is.Paul SchwedelsonBetter Call PaulOriginal season prediction: 5-7Updated prediction: 5-7After Syracuse’s 3-0 start, Scott Shafer beamed in his press conference and told the media, “let’s not lose that with our questions.” Looking back it almost seems laughable after his defense has been gashed for 123 points in the last three games. SU’s season is now at a crossroads as the Orange’s record teeters at .500.Scott Shafer: BSyracuse has come up on the wrong end of the last three games, but outside of Florida State and Clemson, the Orange has a puncher’s chance in its other remaining games. SU has proved it could compete with anyone — see LSU — but also struggled with mid-majors — see CMU and USF. Credit Shafer for getting his players to play hard, but another second-half slide could be underway. Comments Published on October 19, 2015 at 8:53 pm Contact Sam: [email protected] | @SamBlum3 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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