The answer to the Syracuse Orange football troubles is simple -- turnovers. For weeks head coach Doug Marrone has made the topic a feature in his pregame and postgame press conferences, and it was again Monday during his weekly teleconference that followed a 23-15 loss to the No. 19-ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights, which featured four second-half turnovers.
"Extremely high," Marrone replied when asked where his frustration level is with his team's turnover woes. "I am not going to lie to you, my frustration level is extremely high. Its really what's hurting this team."
The numbers don't lie, Syracuse (2-4, 1-1 Big East Conference) has a turnover problem. In the Orange's six games this season there have been a total of 20 turnovers, and the Orange have 15 of them. In all four of Syracuse's losses the Orange have turned the ball over more than their opponents, a ratio of 13 to 2, with senior quarterback Ryan Nassib having nine of those turnovers (seven interceptions and two fumbles).
SU's issues with holding onto the football haven't pertained to just this season. Reluctantly, Marrone pointed out his team has 24 losses under his four-year leadership and in those games the Orange's turnover margin is minus-30.
"It doesn't give you a chance," Marrone said.
The fact is, Syracuse has had a lot of chances to win games this season. On Saturday, SU had a chance to take a 10-7 lead early in the second half but had a 32-yard field goal blocked and returned 75 yards for a touchdown. That play swung the momentum in the Scarlet Knights favor while three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble) by Nassib made it impossible for SU to come-from-behind.
About a month ago, Nassib threw an interception on the first play of a 17-10 loss at the Minnesota Golden Gophers. His second-quarter fumble ended a drive that marched down to the Gopher 31-yard line. His third-quarter interception, which was forced by a hit by safety Brock Vereen who came free on a blitz, stalled a drive at Minnesota's four-yard line.
After the loss to Minnesota, Marrone made it clear that his focus during the team's bye week was going to be on ball control and the mental aspects of the game -- penalties, game situations, etc.
The following week, Syracuse turned the ball over just once in a 14-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers. However, the ball-control trend didn't continue into Saturday's game against Rutgers.
So, the questions must be asked: What gives? Why is Syracuse so prone to turning the ball over? Is it Marrone's fault? Is it the players fault?
The traditional belief has always been a team's turnovers and mental mistakes are a reflection of how well a team is coached. Yet, its hard to believe that Marrone, a stickler for details (sometimes too much), is overlooking the problem. And, as the stats show, Nassib has been a turnover machine in SU's losses.
On Monday, Marrone took blame for most of the problem but did admit the issues is a team one -- an attitude that shows SU's headman's patience with his players could be slipping a bit.
"Schematically, we need to do things to put our players in position were things are very clean," Marrone said. "Defensively, we need to create some turnovers, and special teams we can't turn the ball over and maybe create some turnovers there."
"All three phases have to help in that category. Its a team category -- turnover margin -- and really for our time here that's been the problem. People can talk about schematics, people can talk about players, people can talk about coaches. At the end of the day, I think those are the most telling numbers of our football team. When we can correct that I really believe we will win a whole lot more than we lose."
Syracuse hosts the Connecticut Huskies Friday at the Carrier Dome (8 p.m. ET ESPN). The contest will be SU's second Friday night contest at the dome this season.