Well, yesterday was rough. Things most certainly did not go the way Syracuse University football fans wanted, hoped, or even expected them to go in a 45-24 loss to South Florida. The Orange were conservative early, made some mistakes late, and couldn’t come up with some key stops when they desperately needed them despite a valiant effort in the third quarter, and into the start of the fourth, by Eric Dungey and the team to make a comeback.
Now, instead of being 4-1 and optimistic about the rest of the season, the Orange are 3-2 and back on the road again next week at Virginia – another team that, on paper, Syracuse should be able to handle. But right now, I’m not even looking ahead to that game yet, because I’m going to decompress and just take a step back and examine what we know, versus what we think we know about this Syracuse team.
Is this team good? Is it bad? Is it somewhere in the middle? I still don’t think we know for sure, because frankly, what this team is above all else, is young. There’s so much youth and inexperience in key roles right now, and it certainly showed yesterday in the team’s first road trip of the season. And I think that’s important to remember: not just the first road trip of the season, but for many crucial players – Dungey, Jordan Fredericks, Steven Clark, Kielan Whitner – it was the first college road trip of their careers.
In a perfect world, maybe of those four, Clark and Fredericks would even have been on the field yesterday, but guys like Dungey and Whitner were forced onto the field a lot earlier in their careers than anyone could have expected. That goes for a lot of the guys on this team, too. Look at the roster and you’ll see a number of true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, sophomores, and so on littering the 2-deep. Dungey has excelled, for the most part, while Whitner is obviously undergoing some growing pains.
And I have to be honest, I feel for the kid. Here’s a guy who was never expected to be a day one contributor, but circumstances required him to get on the field as a true freshman when a redshirt season would have been far preferable. But Durell Eskridge went pro a year early, Marquise Blair failed to qualify, and the Orange desperately needed another safety for depth. Whitner was the most physically ready of this year’s trio of true freshmen, so he got the nod.
Unfortunately, yesterday saw him at the center of two crucial plays that worked against the Orange. In the first instance, just before halftime, a punt bounced off of his back and USF recovered. Simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and frankly, his junior punt returner, Brisly Estime, probably should have communicated better since Whitner’s back was to the ball and he obviously couldn’t see it coming.
The second play is the one that, sadly, drew the ire of knee jerk reactionists on Twitter. Facing a 3rd and 12, USF threw an incomplete pass and, when the receiver was out of bounds, Whitner’s momentum took him into the receiver and he was called for a late hit. USF scored a touchdown shortly thereafter. And I have to tell you, the reactions I saw on social media and message boards put the “jerk” in knee jerk. It’s pretty sickening to see people attack a young kid out there who is busting his ass trying to make a play, and simply made a mistake. Do people on Twitter not realize that no one is more aware of how costly that mistake was than Kielan Whitner? Yet there they were, hurling insults and derogatory tweets his way.
I have no time for people like that, quite frankly. Just because “fan” is short for “fanatic” it doesn’t give you the right to act like a raving lunatic. Perspective is crucial when it comes to fandom, and it would serve everyone better to avoid the internet during a game, because seldom does anything good come from posting your immediate reaction to something frustrating. You just end up looking like an asshole 90% of the time, because as fans, we’re controlled by our emotional investment in our team.
We also need to realize that at the end of the day, the teams we root for are almost never as good as we think they are, and almost certainly never as bad as we think they are. A season of rooting for your favorite team is an emotional rollercoaster, filled with sharp ascents and descents based on the most recent play. After playing tough against LSU, half of the Syracuse fanbase was convinced this team was ready to contend for an ACC title right now. And now, after losing to USF, many of those same people are assuming the Orange will lose eight in a row and finish the year 3-9 again.
And the thing is, as with everything else in life, both extremes are wrong. Like I said, it’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems. As with everything else in life, the odds are pretty strong that it falls somewhere in the middle. Is this Syracuse team ready to contend for an ACC title? Of course not. Obviously it could still happen, since the Orange are still 1-0 in conference play, but we need to go from week to week with a little bit of reality stored safely in the back of our minds. On the flipside, are we going to finish the year 3-9? I highly doubt it. There are still winnable games against Virginia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, North Carolina State, and Boston College (who lost to Wake 3-0 yesterday, in case you missed that gem) left on the slate. A bowl game is still very much within reach, albeit a little trickier now that one of the games that was perceived to be a relatively safe bet for a win has been placed in the loss column.
This is a young team, with a lot of promising pieces in place that could make the rest of this year very exciting. There are always going to be growing pains, and stumbles along the way. And if you need even more perspective, well…at least we aren’t Rutgers: