Four weeks ago, this looked like a great game. USF was looking like the Big East favorite and everyone knew that the Syracuse Orange had the potential to play well. ESPN2 was looking at another good game in the Dome with Big East title implications.
Then West Virginia had this game looking even better. Maybe the Bulls come around and this game decides the Big East? The Orange keep rolling into a national ranking and ESPN gets a Big East top 25 team.
Then both teams forgot how to play football. Well to be a homer, USF forgot four weeks or so ago, Syracuse just the past two. In what Andrea Adelson of ESPN is calling the Desperation Bowl, proudly sponsored by Sbarro! (Kidding, but seriously. They have a large enough hold over food consumption here on campus it would not be surprising.)
In reality, this may be the Beef O' Brady play in bowl rather than the Desperation Bowl, as both teams need a win to gain bowl eligibility (or take a step to be very close in the case of USF). Syracuse has struggled these past weeks so just a fair warning: The keys to beating USF involve Orange improvement and consistency just as much as shutting down B.J. Daniels (more on this later).
If the Orange win, they go to a bowl, plain and simple. Will it be the Pinstripe Bowl? That more than likely involves winning out, and the Orange have not earned the right to look past the game at hand. So this week the Orange have to...
The Bulls are the No. 1 team in Big East rushing (198.8 yards/game), and Syracuse has struggled against the run during their skid. Last week, the UConn option attack was able to move the ball for good chunks of yards consistently and allowed 198 yards to a UConn team that averages 127.8 a game.
What makes USF so dangerous is that their rushing is not contained to one player. Darrell Scott averages over 70 yards a game with five touchdowns on the season as the top rusher for the Bulls. Quarterback B.J. Daniels contributes another 55 yards or so a game as well as being a proficient passer.
Moral of the story: The Bulls are going to come into the Dome ready to slam the ball down the throats of the Orange. Chandler Jones has done a fantastic job on the line since his return, but since then the linebackers have been a little too quiet.
If Syracuse is going to stop the Bulls' rushing attack, the Orange linebackers need to step up, and heck, another Dyshawn Davis tone setter would be appreciated.
The five turnovers by UConn may have been a product of sloppy Huskie play, but the Orange defense would happily continue to prey on teams like they did on Saturday.
In particular the secondary should keep playing keep away this week against B.J. Daniels. Why does this guy keep coming up? Daniels is 15th in the nation in total offense, accounting for over 300 yards a game. Daniels is careful with the ball, only throwing five interceptions this season so the Orange secondary will have to be aggressive.
This should not be a problem. Phillip Thomas and the rest of the secondary kept UConn to a mere 113 yards in the air with their ball hawking skills. Those low numbers won't repeat, but that does not mean Syracuse can't pressure Daniels into quick decisions that an aggressive secondary will pounce on.
Especially Jeremi Wilkes. Last year playing in his hometown of Tampa, Wilkes picked off Daniels and had three tackles. With a year under his belt, hopefully there has been improvement and he can continue to torment USF.
The Orange pass rush is as much a part of this equation as the secondary is. Chandler Jones needs to lead the front seven in getting Daniels to the ground early and often.
Syracuse scored 49 points against West Virginia three weeks ago. In the last two weeks, Syracuse has mustered 31points. While Louisville is one of the best defenses in the country, UConn is not and the Orange, with five takeaways, only managed 21 points.
A big reason for this is the offensive strategy. Antwon Bailey has really struggled to get going the past two weeks, rushing for a combined 120 yards in the two losses. Granted, they may have to do with Nate Hackett's playbook as well as poor play.
Ryan Nassib has not looked comfortable in pocket and he has had little reason to be this way. While Alec Lemon was named to the Big East honor roll last week, the rest of the receiving core outside of Nick Provo has been anything but consistent. There were several instances in both Louisville and UConn where open receivers dropped open passes that would have converted key first downs.
As a result, Nassib has tried forcing the ball, holding on too long, etc., and all of this has led to an out of sync offense that cannot move the ball effectively. USF does not present a tough defensive challenge, so Syracuse had better get something going this week or they won't be able to get anything going for the rest of the year.
This may seem like a cop out of a key but it is so true.
When teams get in a funk on road trips, sometimes a return to normalcy is what is needed. The Dome will hopefully be full again as the game is on ESPN, it is the Orange Central (politically correct for Homecoming), and the final game students have season tickets for. Furthermore, Syracuse was selling tickets for only $11 in an effort to replicate the West Virginia crowd of a few weeks ago.
Why? Because the players admit that it helped them perform.
Syracuse has a lot of issues right now as a team, but the reason fans are frustrated is because they have played amazing games like WVU and found ways to win the close ones like Wake Forrest. Maybe all the athletes need is the comfort of another home game to wake up and get on track for the final two road contests.
But first they have to beat USF. So fans, come to the game and be loud. If Syracuse wins, it will be the first time since 1998-99 that the Orange have been to back-to-back bowl games (curse you GR). Because to be brutally honest, this may be the last chance they get.
For more Syracuse and other college football updates, follow @ACPregler on Twitter.