Four Downs: Northwestern Wildcats

Before every SU football game this season I’ll preview the game by discussing the four biggest questions heading into the contest. Now, while we all have asked questions such as “How on earth does Greg Robinson still have a head coaching job at anything above JV high school football?” we will stick to relevant questions for the upcoming game. Let’s get on with it.

1. Who will step up and take over for the departed Mike Williams and Taj Smith?

Without a doubt this is the biggest question mark on the team heading into the opener. Andrew Robinson was able to develop great chemistry with Williams and Smith, who combined for over 100 catches, 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns. Robinson was sure to enter this year with a chance to improve upon his numbers with these two returning. Now that they’re gone, who is left? Lavar Lobdell returns, and many are expecting him to finally show the potential we thought he had when he signed with the Orange. Bruce Williams has converted back from free safety and might get a chance to start. Donte Davis, Marcus Sales and Chaz Cervino also might get a chance to contribute. My prediction is that it will change week to week who Robinson is targeting the most. Lobdell definitely has the talent and attitude to develop into a number one wideout, but this is the biggest concern heading into Evanston.

This could be a recurring sight this season...

2. What will be Mitch Browning’s effect on the offense?

We’ve already seen his effect on local eateries; Browning’s main task is to keep his QB upright, as the SU offensive line gave up 4.5 sacks per game last season. Andrew Robinson might not have anyone to throw to, but you could give him Marvin Harrison and Art Monk and it wouldn’t matter if the O-line doesn’t protect him. Browning’s Minnesota teams had prolific rushing attacks and there is no doubt that Syracuse needs help running the football. But pass protection is going to be a necessity, as we will be playing from behind a lot this year.

3. How will the defense handle Northwestern’s spread offense?

Last year the Wildcats finished second in the Big Ten in total offense with 427.67 yards per game. QB C.J. Bacher leads their spread offense attack and he has good weapons in RB Tyrell Sutton and WRs Ross Lane and Eric Peterman. Dealing with this attack will be no picnic for the Cuse defense.

As of right now G-Rob has not made a decison on his starting CB opposite of Mike Holmes. Both Nico Scott and Da’Mon Merkerson will get a look against Northwestern. This defense has a lot of untested players who will need to play big roles if the Orange can be competitive this year. Facing this type of offense has me worried just based on the numbers Robinson’s defenses have put up in his tenure. Here are the national rankings for the defense over the last three years:

2007:

  • Rusing Defense: 108
  • Passing Defense: 102
  • Total Defense: 111
  • Scoring Defense: 104
  • Sacks: 118

2006:

  • Rusing Defense: 110
  • Passing Defense: 76
  • Total Defense: 107
  • Scoring Defense: 72
  • Sacks: 19

2005:

  • Rusing Defense: 97
  • Passing Defense: 21
  • Total Defense: 57
  • Scoring Defense: 67
  • Sacks: 55

You can see the pattern. The first year, with basically Paul Pasqualoni’s players, Robinson had a very solid defense who was always on the field because the offense was brutal (it is worth noting that Robinson’s first defense performed better than Coach P’s last one). But since his recruits and his schemes have become a more prevalent part of the Syracuse defense, the results have become unbelievably horrid. I think the D will struggle this season as usual, but our pass defense will look extremely terrible this week.

4. How will the carries be split between the tailbacks?

Greg Robinson hasn’t decided who will start yet, and might not until Saturday. Curtis Brinkley, Doug Houge, and Delone Carter have by all accounts had their moments this pre-season. Brinkley is the top returning rusher from last season, having carried the ball 111 times for 416 yards and 2 TDs. Of course leading the team in rushing isn’t impressive when your team ranks 118th in the country in rushing offense. There is a possibility that all three could receive some of the work load, or that it could be an even split. What’s likely is the coaches going with whomever is having the best day out of the three for the first few games, then settling on a more definitive distribution of the carries.

Highly touted freshman Averin Collier is not listed on the depth chart for Northwestern. G-Rob hasn’t announce if Collier would be redshirted or if he can expect to play this week. As of now it seems he won’t see any time until a few of the others drop out of the race or are hit by the injury bug.

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