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There may not be a better school in the nation for upcoming journalists than Syracuse. So we tracked down Michael Cohen, who is a Syracuse beat writer for the Daily Orange to learn all about Minnesota's opponent this weekend. You can read the Daily Orange online and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
GopherSports: Michael, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you give us a brief scouting report on Syracuse?
Michael Cohen: Syracuse unveiled a new offense for the 2012 season, and the results so far -- in terms of points scored -- are certainly positive. Riding the right arm of Ryan Nassib, Syracuse has opened up the playbook and operated almost extensively out of the shotgun formation to put up more than 25 points in all three games this season.
In contrast, though, the defense has struggled in portions of all three games. The Orange trailed by 22 points in the second half against Northwestern, and the defense fell apart in the fourth quarter of what was a close game with then-No. 2 Southern California for the better part of 45 minutes. And last week Syracuse was picked apart in the first half by Stony Brook's running attack before tightening up in the second half.
So in summary, Syracuse is still a bit of an enigma in 2012. It's unclear what team will take the field each week, as the Orange continues searching for a sense of consistency.
GS: Syracuse is 1-2, but is that kind of a deceptive record? That Northwestern game was a one-point contest and USC is one of the best teams in the nation. Are they better than that 1-2 record indicates?
MC: I think at this point in time Syracuse is more like the team that gave USC a run for its money than the team that was outplayed by Stony Brook for large portions of the game last weekend. Syracuse is certainly one of the more dangerous 1-2 teams in the country, but the lack of consistency from week to week -- even quarter to quarter -- is something that makes the Orange completely unpredictable and frustrating for fans to watch at times.
GS: The Orange has a superstar in quarterback Ryan Nassib, as he throws for nearly 400 yards a game. What is the key to slowing him and his receivers down?
MC: The key to slowing down Ryan Nassib, in my opinion, is getting pressure from the edges that begin to collapse the pocket. He seems to get nervous when his protective bubble closes down, and he has made poor decisions when forced to step up in the pocket. See his first interception against USC that was thrown right into the stomach of Trojans linebacker Dion Bailey for proof. If Minnesota can pressure Nassib and force him to move around before throwing, the Gophers should be able to limit his production.
GS: Max Shortell will start at quarterback for Minnesota. How do you think that will change the Syracuse defensive game plan?
MC: Syracuse has struggled with mobile quarterbacks recently, as evidenced by last year's losses to Cincinnati and South Florida. So it would make sense to believe, then, that the Orange was a bit relieved that MarQueis Gray is unlikely to play this weekend. However, Syracuse defensive quarterback Scott Shafer pointed out that Max Shortell has experience starting football games in the past and cannot be taken lightly. He is making his first start in 2012, though, so I wouldn't be surprised if Syracuse brought pressure early to try and rattle him on the first few plays.
GS: Who is an under-the-radar player Gopher fans should keep an eye on?
MC: On the offensive side the ball, freshman running back Ashton Broyld is the player to keep an eye on. Broyld was a high school quarterback that made the switch to running back in preseason camp. He is an explosive player that is continuing to learn the offense, but he scored his first collegiate touchdown last week in a game in which he was much more involved than in Syracuse's first two games. I expect his role to continue to expand as the season progresses.
On defense, safety Shamarko Thomas is an exciting player to watch. Thomas is one of the bigger hitters for Syracuse, and he very much fits the definition of a ball-hawking safety. Look for him to be up around the line of scrimmage to help against the run as well as defending against the pass. He is the leader of the Syracuse secondary.
GS: Answer the following question. Syracuse will win if...
MC: ...it can avoid a fourth consecutive slow start on offense.