Author's note: Please excuse the Tuesday evening posting of this article. I originally posted it Monday morning, but because of my ineptitude, I messed up the entire blog. I promise, it will never happen again. "Blog editing" was not a topic on the bar exam.
Welcome to the third edition of Monday Morning Quarterback here at Orange::44. While Syracuse never really did find that “positive taste in their mouth” this weekend, we must understand the past to improve the future. That said, let us look back on the two-headed monster that led the Syracuse offense to a 28-7 loss to the Nittany Lions.
From the very get-go, Greg Paulus and the Syracuse offense just had nothing of substance going. SU’s opening drive, which would prove to be the only possession of the first quarter, ended on a sack and subsequent punt. I was really worried that time of possession would kill the Orange, and we really wouldn’t get an opportunity to see what they could do against the Penn State defense.
The second quarter brought more opportunities to flash, and more dim lights (if we wanna run with this analogy). We saw Ryan Nassib’s insertion into the lineup not just for the Stallion, but also for some real time as the quarterback. In fact, he actually has a stat line for this game: 4 of 5 for 30 yards, 0 TDs and 0 INTs. Quite frankly, not a horrible line given his limited action. The highlight was probably his first completion, a 19-yard pass to one-time QB Cody Catalina. More on Nassib in a moment.
In the dwindling moments of the first half, I was itching for Syracuse to put some points on the board. Even a 3-spot would be fine for me. And as luck would have it, Kevyn Scott intercepts a PSU pass and earns Syracuse possession at their own 31 yard line with 3:57 to go and one time out remaining. Paulus is effective at moving the ball down the field, but horrible with the clock management. They were just playing with no urgency, no aggressiveness. It was almost like a “whatever happens, happens” attitude. Read: not a good way to win a football game. In the end, the best Paulus could do was set the team up for a 51-yard field goal attempt, which of course was unsuccessful. Syracuse went into the half scoreless.
The third quarter featured a great drive down the field led by Greg Paulus, starting at the Syracuse 41. In a mostly passing series, Syracuse got as close as the Penn State 5 yard line, setting up a 4th and goal situation. Paulus finds Mike Williams wide open in the end zone, fires a perfect pass right at him, and… Williams drops it. Quite frankly, a turning point in the game, because had that pass been caught, Syracuse is only down 21-7 and has some great momentum after basically steaming through the PSU defense on that drive. The next series, Syracuse surely would have had the confidence to go out there and do it again, and the defense was playing strong enough at this point where another possession could have advanced Syracuse to 21-14. But, this was not to be. The pass was dropped, and Penn State took over on downs.
Syracuse’s lone score came after a Penn State fumble in the 4th quarter with Greg Paulus hooking up with Donte Davis for a 16 yard touchdown pass. Paulus would finish the day 14 of 20 for 105 yards, one TD and 2 INTs. These stats were down a little bit from last week, but honestly I think we all expected that, against a great Penn State team. Stat-wise, I grade Paulus on par with where he was last week: pretty good, but still lots of room for improvement. And I’m not by any means down on him – he’s doing well. Again, he really should have had a few more completions, but for the dropsies of the receivers. Where I dock him points, however, is his decisionmaking. Paulus made some horrible throws into tough coverage, which ended in interceptions. He also, at least at one point while being pressured, turned his back on his rushers (which inevitably ended in a massive sack). And of course, as mentioned above, the clock management leaves much to be desired. I certainly hope that Paulus is taking all that in as learning experiences, so that he can improve upon those intangibles and not make those mistakes in the future.
Much more so than in the Minnesota game last week, this matchup featured a “two headed monster” at QB, with Ryan Nassib seeing much more action. While it would only be for a play or two at a time, rather than an entire series, Nassib showed poise on the field. Last week when we saw Nassib on the field, we knew we’d be getting the Stallion. This week he was more than just the Stallion decoy; he was a QB. Of course, the argument can be made that the rotation of QBs from play to play disrupts the rhythm of the offense; and maybe so. But I take Doug Marrone at his word when he says they do this in practice every day and it’s not really disrupting to the team. And assuming that’s true, here’s why I like it: it makes the Stallion more effective and makes Nassib as QB more effective. Or, rather, the opposing defense doesn’t exactly know what to expect when Ryan Nassib is on the field.
That said, I still believe Greg Paulus is the starting QB. He has to be. We’re still way too early in the season to be making changes of that magnitude, and there’s really no fundamental flaw in his playing at this moment that can’t be fixed by repetition and actual game play. But I like the emergence of Nassib as an integral part of the offense, and hopefully the experience he receives now will pay off next year when Paulus is out of eligibility. Or later this year if things go south or Paulus gets hurt (God forbid).
This coming Saturday, the Orange match up against the Methodists – or, uh, the Wildcats of Northwestern back at the Carrier Dome. Hopefully friendlier confines than 100,000+ PSU hippies will cut down on the mistakes and bad decisions at the QB position. In the Wildcats, we see a defense that allowed 148 passing yards to Eastern Michigan in squeaking out a 27-24 victory this past weekend, and 140 yards in a victory over Towson in week one. Syracuse has to have similar air numbers to keep this game close, and must mix in its running game if it wants to notch its first W of the season to what I consider to be a vulnerable Northwestern team. I’ll keep on saying it until it happens: the Syracuse OL needs to give Paulus/Nassib at least about 1 second more in the pocket. I think if we don’t see improvement in this category by the end of this next game, then we know it’s a personnel problem and not a coaching problem. I’d rather not have to make that assessment; I want to see results!
The Weekly QB Watch
Going into the upcoming game against the Northwestern Wildcats, the probability of starting is as follows:
Greg Paulus – 98%
Ryan Nassib – 2%
Cam Dantley – 0%
Charley Loeb – 0%
Other – 0%
A slight change from my first and second week predictions. I had to throw a bone to Nassib, simply because he actually got some snaps against the Nittany Lions. Look for him to come off the bench to ram his Stallion into the Wildcat defense, and/or toss a TD pass or two.