Less than 48 hours removed from the Syracuse Orange's 28-17 victory over the Stony Brook Seawolves, the feeling around Orange nation is two fold -- some feel SU wasn't dominate enough against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, while others are taking a win is a win approach and moving onto Week 4's opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
By now, in year four of the Doug Marrone project, many fans have grown impatience with the football program and are frankly sick of mediocrity -- a felling that is totally understandable, but, frankly is too critical.
You know how Stony Brook beat Pace 77-7 last weekend? Well Pace is a DII school. You're supposed to beat a team on a lower level than you 77-7. It's not as impressive as it sounds. And that's why Syracuse should have done the same.
If one were to closely look around the college football landscape, especially the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conferences, one would see examples and examples of teams not living up to or overly surpassing weekly expectations.
How is it possible that the Pittsburgh Panthers lose to a FCS program in Week 1, get beat down by the Cincinnati Bearcats in Week 2, but then wipe the floor with then No. 13-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies in Week 3?
Cincinnati committed six turnovers in a 23-7 victory over Delaware St., a FCS school; the Louisville Cardinals almost blew a 36-7 lead to the North Carolina Tar Heels in a 39-35 victory at home; the Connecticut Huskies barley snuck by the Maryland Terrapins, 24-21.
Meanwhile, Syracuse's Week 1 opponent, the Northwestern Wildcats, are 3-0 after victories over the Vanderbilt Commodores and Boston College Eagles -- as a SU fan did you see that coming after the Orange handed them an season-opening victory?
In fact, if you crunch the numbers Syracuse's victory over Stony Brook on Saturday was pretty dominant, especially when you look at the second half numbers.
- In the second half, Syracuse out gained Stony Brook, 329-49, in total yardage.
- In the second half, Syracuse never allowed Stony Brook to pass its own 25-yard line.
- In the second half, Syracuse ran 47 plays, Stony Brook just 17.
- In the second half, Syracuse allowed just 45 rushing yards after surrendering 172 in the first half.
- In the second half, four of Syracuse's first five offensive possessions marched inside Stony Brook's 13-yard line (its final clock-killing drive reached the 23). Syracuse scored two touchdowns and was halted twice at the Seawolves' 2-yard line.
See, the scoreboard doesn't always tell the game story -- I mean that's what you told all of your buddies about the Syracuse/USC game a week back, right?
The real story is found in the game film, coach's and player's reactions and, in the case of Stony Brook, mixing the bad with the very good.
Its not my intention to blow Orange smoke up people's backsides because this teams has a long, long way to go before its even BCS relevant -- can Syracuse play at least some special teams? But my advice, as they say, is to take it one week at a time and don't overact too much. This team better than its 1-2 record and what the scoreboard read Saturday.
Nassib continues 3rd quarter success
I touched on this topic in my Week 2 column and after the win over Stony Brook it must be mentioned again.
For the third straight week, Syracuse's offense exploded in the third quarter as it rallied behind the arm of senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, who went 9 of 12 for 110 passing yards and one touchdown in the third to help the Orange claim a 21-17 lead entering the fourth.
Nassib, who will enter Week 4 second in the country in passing yards (1,139) and fourth in touchdowns (nine), has made a living in the third quarter combining for a ridiculous state line of 31-for-39 (79-percent), 355 passing yards and four touchdowns through three games.
"We're actually going to tell the scoreboard operator to put a three there," Syracuse offense coordinator Nathaniel Hackett jokingly said about trying to get Nassib off to a quicker start in the game. "We're going to tell (Nassib) to go into it like that."
Jokes aside, Nassib's ability to execute Syracuse's second half adjustments has kept the Orange in every game thus far.
"A lot of it has to do with teams that we play come out with a good scheme and they show stuff that we haven't seen," said Nassib. "We expect something and they throw something else at us."
Hackett agreed with that assessment.
"I think that's kinda what has happened," said Hackett. "We always think that when we come out that people are going to stop the pass game, so they are going to allow us to run. Funny enough, when we get out there they start trying to stop our run and not the pass game. I think that means from the play-calling standpoint I need to be aggressive early and if I did that, I think Ryan will be more successful."
Whatever the case -- and even head coach Doug Marrone said he really has no answer for Nassib's three-quarter success saying, "I don't know what it is, its my job to find out," -- Syracuse has been able to make very good halftime adjustments and that's something the coaches and Nassib can't get killed for.
Dreadful special teams
What the Orange coaching staff and players can get criticized for is the terrible play on special teams. In the first few weeks, Syracuse has given up a lot of big plays in the return game, executed just one punt inside the opponent's 20-yard line in 13 tries and have made 3 of 6 field goals, none longer than 40 yards.
In his post-game press conference, Marrone experienced concerns about senior field goal kicker Ross Krautman, who's attempted all of SU's field goals, and admitted to a strange specialist role with sophomore punters Jonathan Fisher, who serves as the Orange's deep punter, and Riley Dixon, who's SU's hang-time punter.
Though, the punting game has been terrible -- and many times have gotten Marrone in trouble because he has expected his punter to do their job when SU has had a chance to pin an opponent deep inside its own territory -- the biggest concern is Krautman, who's accuracy and dependability has regressed in the past two seasons.
The cry now is for either senior Ryan Lichtenstein, who if you watch pregame warm-ups isn't close on anything farther than 30 yards (no joke), or kicker freshman Ryan Norton, who serves as SU's kickoff specialist because of his big leg.
In my opinion, I think its time to give Norton a shot at winning the job. There could be some growing pains with Norton, but he seems to have the confidence and momentum to get the job done. And when it comes to Big East play, making field goals -- or not leaving your opponent with very good field position -- is key to winning and losing sloppy games.
For the second straight week, Marrone and Co. were forced to make a few tough decisions on 4th-and-short situations, and they didn't come out on the right end of the deal.
If you recall, against the Trojans Marrone elected to punt on a 4th-and-9 situation from the USC 38-yard line midway through the first quarter. The end game was a 12-yard punt from Fisher that failed to pin the Trojans deep inside their own territory.
Then, with about 13 minutes to go in the contest, Marrone elected to punt on 4th-and-2 at the USC 49-yard line trailing just 28-16. Again, the results was a bad punt that resulted in a touchback.
In Saturday's contest, Syracuse had two drives march inside Stony Brook's 3-yard line and neither ended in points.
Marrone admitted that there was confusion on the first drive, which ended with back-to-back incomplete passes to junior wide receiver Jarrod West -- the first play was suppose to be a run, while the second play was an attempted "pick" play that was blown up by the Seawolves secondary.
The second drive concluded with three straight rushes by sophomore running back Jerome Smith, who was gang tackled by Stony Brook defenders on each play. Marrone said he was disappointed in the result, but admitted the Seawolves just stuffed the three plays.
All-in-all -- and this is mainly on Marrone -- for Syracuse to start winning big games there needs to be a lot of clean up on communication, play calling and execution, or this is going to be a below .500 team. Its tough to blast a coach for when I player commits a bonehead penalty, fumbles the ball or blows execution, but when players are not put in good spots to score points than there's a right to be a bit critical.
Ashton Broyld scores, slowly progressing
For the first time in his SU career, freshman slashback Ashton Broyld found the end zone scoring a second-quarter touchdown that helped the Orange take a 14-10 lead with about 7:30 to go in the first half.
Broyld, who ran the ball 10 times for 66 yards and caught two passes for 20 yards, saw himself more involved in the offense Saturday than the previous two games. The increased amount of touches is something Syracuse fans have wanted to see since 6'4, 229-pound athlete enrolled at SU, and according to Marrone he should see more action as his understanding of the offense gets better.
"We had a great conversation," said Marrone about Broyld. "He was upset after the first game and he said, 'Hey coach I want to play more and get in there. I feel like I should play more'. I said, I feel the same way. I want you to play more. But, in order to play more you have to know the ins and outs of everything you're doing. And its not just the Syracuse University football program, a lot of football programs are like. What you've seen though, is he has been getting better and better, and we have to get him more involved and we have been getting him more chances and that's the direction we would like to go."
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