Andrew Robinson (AP)
Washington opens their 2007 season with a new quarterback, a new outlook, and a new venue in which they have never played, traveling all the way across the country to take on the Syracuse Orange in the Carrier Dome, three time zones away from Seattle.
The Orange belong to an improving Big East conference, but they have only managed to wine one conference game in the past two seasons. They have but five wins in their last 23 games, so in this manner, the Orange are in a similar position as the Huskies – a program hopefully on the rise with a long way to go.
The Orange went 4-8 last season and had an offense that ranked No. 110 in the nation while their defense unit came in at No. 107. There are 119 Division I schools in the country, so these numbers are not stellar.
Like Washington, Syracuse will open the season with a new starting quarterback and an offensive line that still has a lot of question marks in it in terms of who will win the starting jobs for the opener.
On defense, there are three new linebackers and two new cornerbacks from a unit that was scored upon and moved backwards at an alarming rate. In a league that features programs on the rise such as Rutgers and Louisville as well as potential national champion West Virginia, there is little to show that Syracuse will gain any ground on the rest of the Big East in the third season of coach Greg Robinson’s tenure.
The media has picked the Orange to finish last in the eight-team Big East in 2007.
Syracuse has 11 starters back from a season ago, but when you finish last in the league in total offense and defense, that can be either a good or a bad thing. Washington is considered to be an adequate tune up for the Orange to prepare them for a schedule that includes West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers at home while taking on Pittsburgh and Connecticut on the road.
Given the bleak outlook for the season, the Washington game takes on huge importance for the Orange. A win in the opener can change the complexion of an entire season, so expect Syracuse to come out with more than just the intention of competing with the Huskies. They’ll expect to win this game and I am sure that they have this penciled in as a “W” on their schedule.
QB Andrew Robinson is the guy the Husky defense will need to keep tabs on at all times. Robinson comes with great hype, and some have called him the program's best quarterback since Donovan McNabb. And despite the dire predictions by the media, Robinson has enough offensive talent and speed around him to score points in large bunches.
Where the Orange could’ve been even stronger, however, is at tailback. However the team’s most exciting offensive threat, Delone Carter, will miss the entire season with a dislocated hip suffered in the spring. Robinson will be asked to do a lot in the absence of Carter, but if he struggles, Coach Robinson will turn to Cameron Dantley. He happens to be the son of former NBA star Adrian Dantley.
Where the Huskies should be able to abuse the Orange is on offense. Big East quarterbacks have had great success in chewing up the Syracuse defensive front, and Jake Locker is as mobile, perhaps more so, than most of the signal callers that Syracuse has faced in league. Syracuse’s defensive strategy has been to attack and take chances, and it has lead to giving up big plays. They do return two solid defensive linemen in DE Jameel McClain and DT Tony Jenkins, and both could have monster seasons if it weren’t for the fact that there is very little known about the guys that will be playing behind them. This defense is just too stacked with youth and inexperience to be considered dangerous. Expect Washington to have success, particularly outside the pocket with Locker and Rankin.
Noise shouldn’t be a huge problem, as the Carrier Dome should only be about half full. If there are more than 45,000 people there for this ESPN televised game, I’d be shocked.
Coach: Greg Robinson, third year, 5-18.
Defensive Player to Watch: Jameel McClain. He was once a linebacker but has now been moved to the edge of the defense as a quick end that wrecks havoc. He will be a guy the Huskies will not be able to block one on one, and will need to show some play action and some roll outs to escape his incredible quickness and speed. McClain led the Big East in sacks last season (9.5) and had 14.5 tackles for loss. Chad Macklin, Cody Habben, and Ben Ossai are going to need help and coordination to contain McClain.
Offensive Player to Watch: Taj Smith. Smith was hyped to have a big season in 2006, and he seemed as if he was going to achieve this when he came out of the gates on fire. He had 300 yards and four touchdowns, but then went down with a broken clavicle before September was out. Although Smith is a wide out, it shouldn’t surprise the Huskies if the sprinter lines up in the slot, at tailback, or just about anywhere on the field. He’s a playmaker that the thin Husky secondary will have trouble with if they lose containment. Smith’s opposite on the other side of the field is Mike Williams, who had a big season as a true freshman wide out last season. He made 24 catches for nearly 500 yards and four scores. These two will have to pull even more of the offensive load as TE Tom Ferron, the leading receiver from last season (30 receptions) quit the team the day before camp began.
Dawgman Prediction: This is an extremely winnable game on paper for the Huskies. Washington has more talent and more experience than Syracuse, but since this is the first game in the Jake Locker era, the game could feature some nervous moments and will be close. Washington will need to avoid giving up the big play on defense, but the guys in the gold helmets with their names on the jerseys will prevail in a cavernous dome.
Washington 17, Syracuse 13