Stock Watch: Pierce and Neal up, defense and Butler down

first_imgSyracuse (4-6, 2-4 Atlantic Coast) had its best offensive output in nearly two months on Saturday, but Wake Forest shredded the SU defense in a 64-43 Demon Deacons win in the Carrier Dome. For the first time in Dino Babers’ career as a head coach, his team entered the fourth quarter with a lead and lost. With two games left on the schedule, SU needs two wins to become bowl-eligible.Stock upRavian PiercePierce is the tight end SU and Babers have not had before. The junior college transfer has settled in as a solid third target alongside the receiving duo of seniors Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips. Pierce adds a new wrinkle to the Orange offense that defense cannot take lightly. Pierce finished Saturday with four catches for 52 yards but two of those receptions were for touchdowns and a third went for a first down.When SU’s offense clicks as it did in the first half, Pierce’s value is much more apparent. Both of Pierce’s touchdown catches came from play-action. If SU can maintain a decent rushing attack — it ran for 178 yards against Wake Forest — Pierce will only have a better chance to exploit slower linebackers and safeties.Moe NealThe sophomore running back has been an interesting case all season. He is one of the team’s best big-play threats but has struggled to earn consistent touches. Part of the reason could be because of junior Dontae Strickland’s pass-blocking skills. Yet Neal has said he’s fine with being patient until he gets his chance. On Saturday, he finished with 12 carries to Strickland’s nine, the first time he surpassed Strickland in that regard this year.Neal rushed for 86 yards, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Strickland added a touchdown and 59 yards of his own. With the status of SU’s best rushing threat, junior quarterback Eric Dungey, still unknown for next week, that kind of production from the running backs will be imperative to continue offensive success.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSpecial TeamsBabers said last week that he needed sophomore receiver/return man Sean Riley to catch more punts. Riley caught two of Wake Forest’s four punts and didn’t allow SU to get pinned inside its own 20-yard line once. But his contribution was seen most on kickoffs, where he took five returns for a total of 121 yards, highlighted by a 38-yard return.SU’s special teams also came through with a massive play when redshirt junior defensive tackle Chris Slayton blocked a WFU extra-point attempt that would have tied the game. Instead, sophomore corner Scoop Bradshaw picked up the ball and returned it for two more SU points. The Orange didn’t score again.Stock downThe defenseSyracuse didn’t have its best player and offensive leader but still scored 43 points. That should always be enough to win at home, but it wasn’t because the SU defense had its worst showing since allowing 76 points to Pittsburgh in last season’s finale. Twenty-four of the 64 points SU surrendered came in the fourth quarter.Leading tackler Parris Bennett finished with only six total tackles. John Wolford, Wake Forest’s quarterback, amassed nearly 500 yards — 363 through the air and 136 more on the ground — and accounted for six touchdowns. Running back Matt Colburn II added two more scores and 237 yards. Much of WFU’s success running the ball came from SU’s failure to stop the run-pass option.Up next in a must-win game as Syracuse faces Louisville and one of the country’s most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks, reigning Heisman Trophy-winner Lamar Jackson. A repeat defensive performance would almost certainly mean SU’s seniors will never play in a bowl game.Zack MahoneyThe fifth-year senior didn’t look like a backup quarterback during the first half, throwing for 297 yards and three touchdowns. The second half was different. Mahoney completed 11 passes after the game’s midway point and tossed two costly interceptions in the fourth quarter.On a crucial fourth down with six minutes left that was essentially a final chance for SU to climb back, SU pulled Mahoney, who had spiked his previous pass several yards short of his target. An ice-cold Rex Culpepper threw an incompletion and Wake Forest took over possession at SU’s 30-yard line.Mahoney re-entered the game on SU’s next drive but the brief benching said it all. He was not the quarterback he was in the first half and SU needed better. Mahoney could have to start again next week if Dungey is again unable to play.Devin C. ButlerPossibly the greatest flaw in SU’s offense is its depth after its top two wide receivers. Butler, a sophomore, is one of a few players who could remedy that problem. He got most of the snaps at the second outside receiver slot opposite Ishmael and finished Saturday with five catches for 49 yards. But he had two costly drops. Though it wasn’t the reason for the loss, SU will need Butler to step up in an amplified role if it wants to appear in a bowl game. Comments Published on November 12, 2017 at 5:55 pm Contact: jtbloss@syr.edu | @jtbloss Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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