Syracuse Football vs. UConn: Doug Marrone's vise game

Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE

SU hosts UConn Friday at the Carrier Dome (8 p.m. ET on ESPN), and the game is being label a "must win" for the Orange.

The lever was turned again last Saturday when the Syracuse Orange left Piscataway, N.J. with another loss, 23-15, to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. And, a sixth straight loss to the visiting Connecticut Huskies on Friday could be the final turn in the vise that could pop Doug Marrone's orange-colored bubble.

Its tough to call the seventh contest in a 12-game schedule a must-win, but that's exactly what Marrone and the Orange (2-4, 1-1 Big East) face Friday at the Carrier Dome.

A loss drops Syracuse's record to 2-5 (1-2 Big East) and would make it nearly impossible for it to reach the six-win mark that helps a program become bowl eligible -- the Orange would need to finish the season 5-1 with two of those victories needing to come against either No. 21 Cincinnati Bearcats (road), No. 16 Louisville Cardinals (home) and Missouri Tigers (road).

A victory keeps a six-win season alive, but most importantly, will help SU avoid losing to its former head coach Paul Pasquonli, who visits Syracuse for the first time since being fired eight years ago, for a second straight season.

(Note: One of the main reasons Pasqualoni was fired was because many believed the program had become stagnant under his leadership -- seasons with 6-6 records and bowl berths weren't enough. Oh, how the tides have turned.)

Not only could Friday's result be a loss to Pasqualoni, it would also be another loss to a seemingly beatable opponent. UConn enters on a two-game losing streak with its latest coming Saturday to the Temple Owls, 17-14 (OT) at home. The Huskies have the Big East's worst rushing offense (100 yards per game) and is near the bottom in passing offense (220.42). And surprisingly, UConn (16) has more turnover's than Syracuse (15).

If those aren't good enough reasons to convince someone how important this game is for the Orange, consider that local sports talk radio host Brent Axe, who dislikes using the adjective "must win" for games, wrote a "must-win" piece Friday for Syracuse.com.

Not much more needs to be said about how critical this game is for SU's season.

Ritchy Desir to return punts

For the first time this season (without an injury acquiring), Syracuse will have sophomore safety Ritchy Desir return punts instead of junior running back Steve Rene.

Special teams has been a big issue for SU this season, especially the punt return unit that has averaged just 0.31 yards with Rene returning. Rene has also has many multiple mental errors -- fair catching when he shouldn't, catching kickoffs that would have gone out of bounce, fumbling -- which has put SU in a lot of tight spots.

Oddly enough, Rene won the job because Marrone said he won the more sure-handed of the two options.

Will Ashton Broyld see the field?

This season (or for years), Syracuse has lacked big play-making ability on offense. The Orange have also struggled in the redzone, especially in its last four games -- just six scores in 13 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

On Thursday, Marrone admitted one of the ways a team can overcome poor red zone play is, "if you have a marquee type player that can just out jump or outmaneuver opponent's in one-on-one battles."

In the preseason, freshman slashback Ashton Broyld was expected to be a player-maker. And, after carrying the ball 20 times and catching seven passes through the first four games, Broyld showed flashes that he could be. However, since then, he hasn't seen the field.

Will he tonight when SU will need a win the most?

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