Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer talked to the media that cover the Atlantic Coast Conference Wednesday as he previewed the Orange’s matchup with third-ranked Clemson this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.
Opening statement: We have a great challenge in front of us going against a great Clemson football team. They’re the top three in the country, and have a Heisman Trophy candidate in Tajh Boyd, some of the best wide receivers I’ve seen on the same team in a lot of years. We’ve got a great challenge, and we’re looking forward to get them up here in the dome and playing some football, first one in the ACC.
Q. I wanted to ask you first on the secondary, with Ri’Shard Anderson, Keon Lyn and Julian Whigham being able to step in and what he did last week, what are your thoughts on your secondary going up against what Clemson has to offer as you just talked about how good their wide receiving corps is?
COACH SHAFER: Yeah, I’ve got a great challenge for our kids. Keon’s been there, and Ri’Shard’s been there, and Reddish has been there before. They’ve gone against some of the best at times throughout their careers. It will be new for Whigham a little bit. Great challenge. We’ve just got to have a good game plan to help them out a little bit here and there.
Q. As far as Terrel Hunt and what he’s been able to do since you instituted him as the starter, how confident are you in him leading this team up against the talent that you’re about to face?
COACH SHAFER: Well, I think a couple of things there. First and foremost, I think he’s got to approach it the same way he has the last couple of weeks. I’ve been impressed with his pocket presence, and he needs to understand he’s played well. If he stays within the realm of the offense and the coaching that he’s got from Coach Lester, who’s done a great job with him. He needs to continue to throw the ball to the guys who are open. The most impressive thing last week, he threw to 11 different guys. I think that’s what helped this offense move forward. We don’t want him to press, and we don’t want him to turn into anything more than a quarterback trying to be productive in this offensive system. As long as he does that, we’ll have a shot at beating Florida.
Q. Lastly, Coach, with the running corps that you have, with the passing ACC, a lot of passing going on, a lot of yards, but things with ACC teams because of passing. When you have such a good running game, is that something that you see as an advantage going into this conference?
COACH SHAFER: You never know until you go in there and fight with people. In particular, the defense is very good. They’re a very good, very talented defense. We’ll have our hands full. I like our running backs, and offensive line continues to get better. I still believe, if we run the ball, we can play with everybody. Hopefully, we’ll go forward as we progress through this conference.
Q. Coach, to go back on what he asked you about Terrel, Terrel told me last night that, when he lost the job to Drew, he actually thinks it helped him. What did you notice about him after you made Drew the starter just in terms of his work ethic and how he reacted to that?
COACH SHAFER: I think his work ethic has always been good. What — I actually told it to him yesterday on the practice field, the thing that I didn’t have a good feel for is when he would put the ball down and take off and make plays with his feet. I think he was in a mode in preseason camp where you can only manufacture a game-like situation so much without creating opportunities for injury. So the thing that you couldn’t see in the preseason was his ability to do what he’s done, and that’s move in the pocket, slide up, take off with the ball a little here and there, and move the chains. I think he was kind of sluggish in doing that in preseason camp. Because he wasn’t going to get hit, he probably didn’t go as hard as he should have. That’s the area I’m impressed with as any. In watching Drew Brees the other night for a quarter, the thing that impressed me the most about him was sliding around and moving the chains with his feet. That’s the thing that Terrel’s done outside of run the offense the way we expect him to and make good decisions. Those are the things I’m most impressed with. I didn’t have any preconceived notions as to whether he was this guy or that guy without seeing what he did daily. That’s kind of how that whole thing kind of went.
Q. To go back on it, Terrel was saying, when he first got on campus, you actually kind of wanted him on defense as a safety. I guess that’s a change of plans, isn’t it?
COACH SHAFER: Actually, that goes back to camp when he was a high school player. I heard he was a good basketball player too. So being a defensive guy, I like multi-talented kids. Those kids are always my best defensive players too. And we had this air ball tournament where it’s kind of just a run around, chuck and duck game we played. He was making interception after interception. It’s like, hey, you know, you can always come over and have a home on defense too, and he laughed. So we laugh about that to this day.
Q. Scott, you’ve got your first ACC game this week with a top five team coming in. What kind of — is there some excitement level there on campus and the community about this first ACC game?
COACH SHAFER: I think so. I hope that the students here are as excited. It’s a great time to be a college student at Syracuse. We’ve got the ACC coming in here. We’ve got the No. 3 team in the country. They’ve got a Heisman Trophy candidate. And I challenge the students to come out and make it a mess out there for them. Make it the loudest the loud house has been in years, and see if they can’t be the 12th man that’s the difference in the game because they can be. They have been in the past. They were the difference last year when we beat Louisville when they were No. 9 in the country. They were the difference the year before when Geno (Smith) came in here with West Virginia. That crowd got so loud they couldn’t make their adjustments. And I guarantee you that helped us get a couple of extra sacks. So I think that our students and our community are taking the challenge on, and my message to them is come out here and show the ACC that the Dome is one hell of a hard place to play in when we’re running around and playing football the way we’re supposed to play it. Our student body and our community are getting loud. That’s the goal. Hopefully, we can meet that objective.
Q. Hey, Coach Scott, talk about Tajh Boyd, the quarterback for Clemson. What do you see on film?
COACH SHAFER: He’s one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen in a long time in college football. He can throw it. He can run it. Red zone, they’re going to run quarterback power with him. He likes to keep the ball in the red zone. Very confident young man. He can make all the throws, got a quick release, and they have a great offensive coordinator who understands their offense and taught that kid really well how to play it. We’ll have our hands full with one of the best in the country.
Q. So what do you guys have to do — what’s the key to the win on Saturday for you guys?
COACH SHAFER: Well, number one objective is to score one more point or more than Clemson. Number two is try to get in the way and see if we can’t trip up their offense a little bit. You know, there’s a lot to it, but try to attack their tendencies and try not to let their best players beat you.