Before USF's Homecoming showdown with Syracuse on Saturday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, Oracle sports editor Jeff Odom caught up with beat reporter Stephen Bailey of the Post Standard and Syracuse.com to break down the Orange.
Jeff Odom: How surprised are people up north that Syracuse has already matched its win total from 2014 through the first four games of this season, especially with the key players that have been injured?
Stephen Bailey: I would say that folks aren't surprised by the 3-1 record. The Orange was supposed to win its first three games against Rhode Island, Wake Forest and Central Michigan. However, the productivity of the new offense and lack of mental errors by a young front seven have increased expectations for the season.
JO: What should USF fans expect out of quarterback Eric Dungey? For a freshman filling in for a veteran like Terrel Hunt, it seemed he was playing well before being knocked out of that Central Michigan game.
SB: While he is still very inexperienced, his poise has the veterans in the unit listening to him. Dungey can make all of the passes in the offense and is especially dynamic in play action. His biggest area for improvement is reading coverages; a few unique ones like a dropping defensive end fooled him in limited action this year.
JO: USF's defense held Memphis — a team that scored 40 or more points in six consecutive games — to 24 points last Friday. How much of an emphasis has Orange coach Scott Shafer put on disrupting the Bulls' success defensively the last two weeks?
SB: Syracuse has used its additional time to gameplan for more situations. The word offensive personnel used to describe South Florida's defense was "fast." I would expect misdirection and option plays in the running game to play off that speed and set up the play-action passing game.
JO: Aside from Syracuse's early record, what has been the biggest shocker you have seen out of the Orange through four games?
SB: Dungey. Before he took a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit against CMU, he looked excellent running the option game. This team will go as far as he takes it as long as key players across the board stay healthy.
JO: Syracuse enters as an unlikely underdog despite owning the better record between itself and USF. What do you expect out of this game?
SB: I've got the Orange by a touchdown, 24-17. Even at home, I think it'll be tough sledding for the Bulls' running game. So as long as the SU defense gives Dungey enough opportunities, a unit that also returns sophomore hybrid Erv Philips should be able to put up a few touchdowns.