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Syracuse’s Shafer down but not out after 2 losses

September 10, 2013

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — After two games against the Big Ten, Syracuse has a big goose egg in the win column.

But rookie Orange coach Scott Shafer is keeping a stiff upper lip.

“Our challenge was against two pretty good Big Ten teams,” Shafer said Tuesday, still smarting from setbacks against Penn State and Northwestern. “It’s different than starting out ... with an easier schedule. There’s plenty of positives going forward.

“We were disappointed but not discouraged. We’re going to stay the course and make the formula work.”

That formula didn’t work too well against the Wildcats, who moved up two spots in the national rankings to No. 17 this week. Even without injured running back Venric Mark, Northwestern was formidable. They scored the first 20 points of Saturday’s game in front of the home crowd, led by 27 at halftime, and won 48-27.

Last year, Mark scored twice and accumulated 203 all-purpose yards in the first half of a game Northwestern (2-0) won by a single point in the Carrier Dome. His presence wasn’t needed this time as Orange quarterback Drew Allen threw four interceptions, giving him six in the two games.

Certainly, that’s not part of Shafer’s formula for success and a big reason Syracuse is in an early-season hole.

“That’s the biggest area that Drew needs to improve upon. Four plays giving the ball over, that ain’t good enough. We have to keep working in that area,” Shafer said. “Right now, sitting at minus-3 on the season (on turnover ratio), our goal is to try to be plus-1½.”

Among the good signs Shafer spotted in reviewing tape of the Northwestern game was 40 broken tackles and 179 yards gained after contact. Numbers were improved from the season-opening 23-17 loss to Penn State at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

“As ugly as the (Northwestern) game was,” he said, “there were positives looking at that.”

Although backup quarterback Terrel Hunt played late in the game against the Wildcats and scored on a 15-yard run, Shafer is sticking with Allen, a transfer from Oklahoma in his final year of athletic eligibility. On the season, Syracuse is 7 for 7 inside the 20-yard line with six touchdowns, and Allen is 43 of 78 for 468 yards and one score.

“I still believe in Drew Allen and I believe in Terrel Hunt as well,” Shafer said. “Both of them have to be ready to play.”

Syracuse’s aggressive defense also was victimized repeatedly by the Wildcats, who beat the blitz nearly every time. Northwestern finished with four touchdown passes — quarterback Trevor Siemian had a career-high three scoring tosses — and racked up 581 yards.

Despite two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and six sacks in the first two games, the Orange defense is allowing 6.2 yards per play and has not stopped any of eight drives inside its red zone.

At least the competition gets easier for the Orange home opener. Wagner (1-1), which plays at Division I’s second tier, visits the Carrier Dome Saturday.

“I can’t wait to coach in front of our student body,” Shafer said. “I can’t wait to have the community come out and see the football team. I know our kids are thirsty. I can’t tell you how excited I am to get back there again, run out of that locker room and just play our butts off.

“There’s a lot of disappointment not being able to come up with a victory in our first two.”

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