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Bulls Recon: Talking Syracuse With TNIAAM’s John Cassillo

We get all the dirt on Syracuse from the editor of one of SB Nation’s best blogs ever.

Colgate v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

As this is the last game for awhile against one of USF’s most common football opponents in history (this is the 10th in the series, Bulls lead 7-2), we will miss the wit and wisdom of What Sean Keeley built, and what today’s contributor John Cassillo carries on, is one of the best blogs on the network. They look at sports a lot like we do, but instead of ‘rasslin gifs they have Chipotle takes. They are smart, funny, insightful, Boeheim-worshipping, and we will miss reading them when it involves the Bulls.

John runs the day-to-day for TNIAAM as managing editor now, and he was nice enough to answer some questions about the new-look Orange for us. You can see my responses to his questions about USF here (spoiler alert, I get called a homer in the comments), and thanks to him for the time. You can follow him @johncassillo on Twitter, and @nunesmagician is their house account.

1. What the shit was that last week?

Right afterward, maybe I would've agreed with the overall negative takeaways from Syracuse's loss to Louisville. But y'know what? There really weren't many surprises.

Syracuse's defense was bad last year WITH the personnel it needed to run the scheme. This year, they don't have the right players for the Tampa-2, so there's little shock the results were what they were. Offensively, we actually hung with a top-10/15 team for three quarters, and our ability to move the football AND score points are both clearly improved. We're far from perfect at this juncture, and there are plenty more kinks to work out with the new schemes on both sides of the football. I'm just tempted to see Friday's result as a building block toward the end goal.

(That said, Lamar Jackson is a monster, and seeing him do what he did to us was not enjoyable in any way)

2. Can you tell everyone the thermometer inside the Dome shows the outside temperature because I've seen it during basketball games and it says, like, 20?

I think it shows both? Or maybe it's been in Celsius when you've looked? I agree that ESPN's constant cuts to the thermometer this past game were a bit much.

3. Can USF and Syracuse connect on LinkedIn or something since we may not see each other again?

Some of our Big East tilts were fun. But I've still been fairly vocal about not wanting to play you guys, because it's a no-win proposition. Win and you were "supposed to" (even against a better USF team). Lose and you receive backlash for losing a Group of Five team. It's a silly dynamic, but as a result, I'm sort of opposed to playing all AAC squads in particular. Especially good ones.

But yeah... "do keep in touch. Would love to see you guys the next time we're in town...." (/pretends to be carried away by the wind as voices fades away)

As for the game...

4. Why is Eric Dungey so annoyingly effective?

There are a few reasons for this:

- He can run well and that (partially) keeps defenses honest against him.

- He actually has better receivers than some might think, which certainly helps make his decisions look better.

- He's a pretty good passer, and has become a better one over the course of his career; he's a pretty quick leaner.

- He's a bit of a "gunslinger"-type. Not sure if that's a positive in the long-term.

The last note is probably the most important one for how and why Dungey's effective. He's a cerebral player in many ways, but he's also addicted to taking some risks. So at times, that has fantastic results (see: some of his scampers of 10-plus yards, his ridiculous lateral last year vs. Central Michigan). And at others, that has very bad ones (see: getting leveled in the back field, probably suffering three concussions last season). You saw both sides of the Dungey coin vs. Louisville. But he IS always getting visibly better, which is not something you can say about a ton of college quarterbacks.

5. Which other player on offense should concern the Bulls the most?

Can I give you two players? This offense runs on quick screens and the occasional deep balls those set up. So focus in on the major deep ball threat (Amba Etta-Tawo) and the primary slot receiver (Ervin Philips) most of all. This may marginalize the team's best wideout, Steve Ishmael, but you'll let him catch passes in those intermediate distances if you can avoid getting up those long passes to Etta-Tawo. Dino Babers's offense is all about speed, and Philips (recruited by previous regime) and Etta-Tawo (Maryland grad transfer) fit exactly what he's looking to do. They're both near the top of the nationwide leaderboards in several stat categories.

6. Is your defense really that bad, or was it just a combination of blowout/new coach/new system/Jackson is a beast??

Sort of touched on this in the beginning. It's a combination of factors. The new scheme is based on coverage and the front four staying at home, and the secondary preventing big plays. The personnel we have right now is based on linebackers blitzing, the secondary taking risks for turnovers and the front-four selling out to stop the run. So... yeah, these skill sets don't really match up. Jackson is also quite good and can terrorize bad defenses. This, for the time being, is a bad defense.

7. Dino Babers was hailed by everyone as a fantastic hire. Forgetting last week, how excited is CNY for the Dino Era?

Last week was exciting, even if the results were bad. The offense still scored points and looked effective at times. The defense even managed to force a few turnovers despite being terrible. Syracuse fans are all pretty excited for the Babers era, and through two games, it's easy to see why. Win or lose, this team is going to score points and compete. We rarely saw either of those things occur under Scott Shafer.

8. If you've seen any of USF this season, what do you think is your best area to exploit? What's SU's best path to making this a game?

I've seen bits and pieces of USF this year, but not enough to dig in TOO deep. That said, I do think Syracuse stands a chance in this game (and every game) if it can find a way to run the ball more effectively. Beyond a couple big gains from Dungey and one or two by Moe Neal and Dontae Strickland, respectively, from the running back position, we haven't been able to move the ball on the ground. We're pretty one-dimensional. So, we should probably get to fixing that soon.

Syracuse's greatest asset is pace, even against a team like USF that runs at a similar clip. If we can gain an early lead, make a stop or two, we're in much better position than playing from behind. Sounds simple, and maybe that's because I'm just boiling it down to a couple factors. But this Orange team is built to play much better from being ahead and I'd feel a lot calmer with an early lead than without one.

Quinton Flowers, as you mentioned in your responses on TNIAAM, doesn't always have the best arm. So forcing him to throw and hoping for mistakes is a key. We said this last week about Jackson, mind you, so take that for what it is.

9. Prediction time: Final score and how we get there.

I'd love to be optimistic and pick in favor of Syracuse, but I think USF possesses too many similarities to Louisville and that's ultimately going to burn us just a week after the Cardinals scored with ease. Things could and should be a little bit closer, assuming the Orange have learned some lessons in the eight days since the last game. I'll pick the Bulls, begrudgingly, 48-38, with SU hanging around into the fourth (rather than garbage time points).