Football

Hass: After pair of convincing wins, ‘Syracuse football is back, baby!’

Eighty-two-year-old Dick MacPherson could barely hear anything I was saying when I called him on the phone last November. I was writing a story about the 1987 undefeated Syracuse football team coached by MacPherson, who has since been voted into the Hall of Fame.

Once he finally heard my question, though, the 1987 team was the last thing he wanted to talk about. Instead, still revved up by Syracuse’s 45-26 upset win over Louisville from the day before, MacPherson changed the topic to the 2012 team.

“Syracuse football is back, baby!” he shouted. He must have said that phrase or some slight variation of it 14 times in a half-hour span.

For a while I didn’t believe him. I bought that the 2012 Syracuse team was back and that they had a chance to make a bowl game. But at the time, I didn’t buy that the team was back for the long haul. But with the Greg Robinson years in the past, the Doug Marrone years as a foundation and the Scott Shafer years upon us, perhaps Syracuse is back.

Thus, you should come to SU’s game against Clemson on Saturday, Oct. 5. Not just to watch Clemson, but to watch the Orange. After blowout wins against Wagner and Tulane, things are looking up for Syracuse football. This team might be better than people expected.

Sure, Wagner and Tulane aren’t the greatest football teams ever assembled. Frankly, they’re bad. But the Orange didn’t just beat those teams. They throttled them, clicking on all cylinders and executing to a T.

“People said you won last week, but yeah it was Wagner,” Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer said after Saturday’s 52-17 pummeling of Tulane. “Wagner was a good football team, as is Tulane.”

They’re really not that good. I expected Tulane to be better. Its offense was stagnant, its defense was almost as bad as Wagner’s and its special teams unit — sans star kicker Cairo Santos — has about as much talent as that of a nearby high school team.

With that said, Syracuse looked mighty fine on Saturday for the second week in a row.

First off, Terrel Hunt has exceeded expectations by a long shot. He has more total touchdowns — nine — than incompletions thrown — eight — and his ability to make something out of nothing makes the offense electrifying.

In a second-quarter scramble from the Tulane 16-yard line, he bolted up the right side, making safety Darion Monroe miss at the three. Then he helicoptered into the end zone over lunging defensive end Andre Robinson.

Another reason is Jerome Smith. His typical catchphrase is that “the hay is never in the barn.” But after Saturday’s resounding win, the running back tweeted after the win that it was.

Smith’s already rushed for six touchdowns, which is tied for fifth in the country. On Saturday he made a nasty one-handed snag that earned the No. 6 spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays the following morning.

The defense also shined against Tulane after shutting out Wagner. Shafer urged his former unit to hold Tulane scoreless in the second half. And that’s exactly what it did. Tulane’s drives were as follows: punt, interception, turnover on downs, punt, punt.

To say that Clemson’s offense is better than Tulane’s would be obvious.

Instead, I’ll simply say that the SU defense is better than I thought it was at the start of the season. Clemson is nasty, but the Syracuse defense won’t be totally embarrassed. I think Clemson will win the game, but I don’t think it will be quite the blowout people expect.

“Clemson’s a real good team,” Syracuse defensive back Darius Kelly said on Saturday. “They’re fast, they’re strong. We’re going to see what we can do these next few weeks.”

So head to the Dome to watch Syracuse, not just to see Clemson. The Syracuse team is exciting, and maybe it really is back, like MacPherson told me last year. It’s a new era, and life in the Atlantic Coast Conference may be less of a rude awakening than I thought at the start of the year.

Walking through stadium control last Saturday, MacPherson was asked a simple question by the security guard.

“How’s it going?”

MacPherson stopped, looked up at the guard and raised his bushy eyebrows.

“ACC,” he said, nodding his head and walking away.

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