After squeaking out a 37-34 victory over Tulane University, the Syracuse University football program enters its first of two scheduled bye weeks and the midway point of the 2011-12 season. In recent memory, there hasn't been a more roller coaster-like start to a season than this year. Right now, the Orange have played three overtime games, all at home, and have won each of their four games by seven points or less. For the first time since '03, SU is 4-2 overall, but could easily be 5-1 or 0-6.
Each week, SU fans really don't know what to expect from the Orange defense, which has allowed 300-yard passing games in four of its first six games, and hide their faces when the offense or special teams has the ball late in games figuring a critical mistake is going to be made during crunch time.
Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib had a superb start to the season -- in his first four games he was competing 71.4 percent with nine TDs and just one interception -- but has struggled recently -- 51.5 percent with two TDs and three INTs in last two games.
|2011 - Ryan Nassib
SU's top two wide receivers, seniors Van Chew and Alec Lemon, also began the season with a bang -- first three games: Chew averaged five catches, 80-receiving yards and a TD, while Lemon averaged eight catches for 72.7 yards and had a two TDs -- but both have been invisible in the last three games -- Chew: 1.7 catches for 19.7 yards and zero TDs; Lemon: 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards and just one TD.
Senior tailback Antwon Bailey has compiled four 100-yard games and scored five TDs, but hasn't been effect on short-yardage situations. Bailey has also had some fumbling issues.
"We have done OK on offense, but we're not even close to where any of us want to be," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "A lot of it is because of the defenses we've faced. We've just got to keep pushing."
Meanwhile, the defense has been downright dreadful this season -- SU ranks near the bottom in almost every defensive category in the Big East. Of course, Syracuse has been playing without its best defensive lineman, senior Chandler Jones, during its last five games and defensive backs Ri'Shard Anderson, Orlando Fisher and Shamarko Thomas all have missed games because of injuries.
For the Orange, their bye week comes at the perfect time. It allows Syracuse to regroup right before a huge home game against West Virginia University, Friday, Oct. 21, which will be broadcast on ESPN. The Mountaineers (5-1, 1-0 Big East) are ranked No. 13 in the AP poll and No. 16 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll and are considered the best team in the league.
"I think right now is a good time for just a little bit of separation," SU head coach Doug Marrone said during his segment on the weekly Big East coaches teleconference call. "For the coaches, now is the time to take a deep breath and really take a good, hard look at ourselves, what our expectations were before the season with our scheme and players and where we’re fulfilling those expectations, where we’re not and why we’re not."
For SU to turn things around it will need to do a few things. First, its defense is going to need to stop opponents on third down (opponents are converting 43 percent on third downs) and be more effective rushing the passer (in the past four games, SU is averaging just 1.75 sacks).
On offense, Marrone will need to find a running back that can convert on third-and-short situations and a play-making wide receiver.
Before Syracuse fans move on to the next six games of the season, here's a recap of the first six:
Syracuse 36, Wake Forest 29 (OT): The Orange opened the season with a thrilling, come-from-behind overtime victory over Atlantic Coast Conference foe Wake Forest. SU trailed 29-14 with 11:02 to play in the fourth quarter, but used two touchdowns just 1:19 apart and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. In overtime, Chew caught a four-yard TD from Nassib to help SU move to 1-0.
Wake forest at Syracuse 2011 highlights (via TrueYankeeforever)
Syracuse 21, Rhode Island 14: Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib tossed for a collegiate-best 318 yards with three TDs, while former walk-on, senior wide receiver Mike Acchione, caught the game-winning TD pass, his first ever, midway through the fourth quarter to help SU escape with another thrilling victory.
USC 38, Syracuse 17: Senior Matt Barkley torched the SU secondary for a 324 passing yards and five TDs. Syracuse led 3-0 early in the first quarter, but the Trojans scored 24 unanswerd points to blow the game open. Syracuse did have a chance to cut its disadvantage to a TD midway through the third quarter, but the drive stalled just inside USC territory.
Syracuse 33, Toledo 30 (OT): This video explains it all.
Bad Call Costs Toledo the Game vs Syracuse @ Syracuse (09/24/2011) (via UpsetCentral)
Rutgers 19, Syracuse 16 (OT): Another overtime game, but this one ends in a loss for SU, which blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead. This game will probably go down as the worst Big East Conference showdown of the 2011-12 season as both schools combined for nine turnovers. In the end, Scarlet Knights senior kicker San San Te nailed a 47-yard field goal in double overtime to help his team grab a lead. The win was cemented when Syracuse senior tailback Antwon Bailey fumbled the ball on the Orange's next possession.
Fortunately, Syracuse fans just remember this hit by freshman linebacker Dyshawn Davis.
BIG HIT - Syracuse Vs Rutgers Football 2011 (via ParisLondonRoma)
Syracuse 37, Tulane 34: Sophomore kicker Ross Krautman's last-second, 21-yard field goal helped the Orange escape New Orleans with their fourth victory of the season. Early in the game, SU led 31-14 and looked like it was going to blow out the Green Wave. However, Tulane stormed back and tied the game with 2:53 remaining in the game. From there, Nassib helped engineer a game-winning, 12-play, 66-yard drive.
To talk Syracuse football e-mail Jared at JaredSmith16@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at Jared_E_Smith.