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Hustle Belt: So, what exactly happened against Villanova? Give me the details. (And yes, I wanna know all about Punchgate.)
John Cassillo: Syracuse has made a bad habit of under-preparing for FCS teams, and also has a hard time with mobile quarterbacks (makes no sense since our current quarterback is mobile). Between that, some offensive line injuries, repetitive and unimaginative play-calling, and a defensive line that looks like it's going to struggle more without Jay Bromley than we thought, that's how a double OT win over Villanova happens. There's also the issue with our starting quarterback being out, as you alluded to. Yes, that game was too close for comfort when he was ejected, but with a very green Austin Wilson seeing his first college snaps for the remainder of the game, you can sort of see how the offense might lack for effectiveness. Doesn't excuse the defense, though, for letting 'Nova keep the ball for as long as they did.
HB: Who on Central Michigan's roster are you most afraid of on offense and defense?
JS: On offense, it's Thomas Rawls right now. He looked great running the football against Purdue, and if SU's defensive line isn't improved from week one, the Chippewas should be able to lean heavily on him. Granted, I think Syracuse's front is much better than Purdue's right now, but the sample size we've seen is too small to really know for sure. Defensively, that secondary -- especially Tony Annese and Brandon Greer -- seem to be the biggest threats to the Orange actually being able to open up the passing game. If they can gain containment on receivers downfield and force more bubble screens (not that you need to FORCE those on us, since we run them so often), big plays may be limited.
HB: Which Orange players should Chippewa fans be nervous about?
JS: Brilsy Estime was not much of a factor against the Wildcats, but if there's one weapon to keep an eye out for, it's probably him. He's quick in open field, and will also factor in on the return game as well. It's a tough call between him and Ashton Broyld when deciphering the Orange's top playmaker on offense. On the defensive side, Durell Eskridge and Julian Whigham are two large bright spots in a secondary that hasn't looked great as a group. They're both pretty ferocious ballhawks and tough hitters, plus Eskridge gets involved in blitz packages as well. We blitz a lot, by the way. You may have noticed.
HB: After watching Purdue get railroaded by Central, what stood out the most to you about the Chippewas' performance?
JS: On the positive side, it's that the Chippewas seem very well coached and are not prone to mistakes -- that's key for any MAC team looking to upset a Power Five member. And the running game, as mentioned, impressed for the full game and should serve CMU well throughout the season. Negatively, the Central Michigan line did not look like it handled blitzes well. The Boilermakers didn't apply a ton of pressure, of course, but any time they did, it seemed like they forced a quick release or got a hit on Cooper Rush.
Syracuse is favored by 9.5 despite being on the road. What does the Orange have to do to secure the victory?
JS: Syracuse is probably getting the benefit of the doubt from Vegas (major conference vs. MAC), while also getting a large line to suck in gamblers. The line is probably closer to four points, especially since things are on the road. The Orange can win, but they'll need to pressure Rush (covered above), and find a way to make play-calling less predictable. Throwing the ball downfield has been a challenge since last season, so they may take early shots on CMU to see how much they can get away with. Terrel Hunt may still be shaking some offseason rust off, but he'll be the key to whether or not this team can move the ball into the end zone. If they can score points efficiently, they should be able to win.
HB: Bonus question: what is up with your mascot, Otto? He kinda scares me.
JS: Otto's fun! What are you talking about? Sure, that vacant stare and plastered smile may seem creepy at first, but he's really just a fuzzy orange with a hat and a nose. That's not weird at all...
To see what Otto's #1 fan asked me regarding "#ACCtion vs. #MACtion: Part 2", click this handy dandy little link.