Editor’s Note: The following article is a new weekly feature from Orange::44 correspondent John Brennan that will run every Monday morning called Monday Morning Quarterback, assessing the quarterback situation of the Syracuse football team on a week by week basis.
Welcome to the second edition of Monday Morning Quarterback here at Orange::44. Time to evaluate the performance of Syracuse Quarterback Greg Paulus from the Minnesota game, and look ahead to this Saturday’s battle with the Nittany Lions.
Where do I start? If I start with the start, it won’t be happy. And if I start with the end, it won’t be happy either. You all know what I mean – so, more on that later.
But that being said, I’ll start with summing up Paulus’s overall performance in one word. Or maybe a short phrase, let’s do that instead: We have a QB who understands the game and can execute the plays. Paulus was very poised on the field, and is clearly the leader of this offense. That’s what you want in a QB. I think it was clear that his years as Duke’s point guard were able to transfer onto the Carrier Dome FieldTurf as he orchestrated the plays.
Paulus finished the day 19 completions out of 31 attempts for 167 yards, a touchdown, and a fateful interception. I’ll certainly take 19-31, especially for a guy who hadn’t played a competitive football game in almost 5 years. 19 completions should really be 22 or so, due to some receivers (i.e. Mike Williams) having a case of the dropsies. But that’s not Greg’s fault, so for purposes of QB evaluation, I’ll just gloss over that. 167 yards is pretty good, especially if that was balanced by equally as good rushing numbers. It was not. So if this offense will continue to be powered by the passing game, that number has to be up over 200 yards.
But I think a lot of what made Paulus look good – and what made us feel good about him – are the intangibles, the things that don’t show up on the stat line. He looked comfortable in the pocket. And when the pocket collapsed, he saw it coming and took evasive measures to escape. Three sacks isn’t bad, considering last year’s offensive line was holier than Swiss cheese. Still, the 2009 OL left a lot to be desired, so this is clearly a testament to Paulus to be as agile on his feet as he was.
I also noticed that Paulus is a big fan of the pump fake. That’s something I don’t remember Cameron Dantley or Andrew Robinson or Perry Patterson or RJ Anderson or Troy Nunes doing. (Is that pretty much it, going back to 2000? If not, close enough.) I mean, I’m sure all those QBs pump faked from time to time, but the way I saw Paulus use it on Saturday just seemed so natural, and so effective.
That said, let’s look at the bad. First play from scrimmage, and THAT happened. Maybe I’m at a disadvantage because I haven’t heard the post-game presser or anything, but here’s my take: the initial huddle was on the sideline with the coaches. With the play clock running down, the offense made its way onto the field to set up its formation. Paulus recognized the play clock was getting low, and was barking at his teammates to get in position and get set so they could snap the ball. That all happened so quickly and so frantically that the center snapped the ball over a shotgunned Paulus’s head. He did his best to fall on the ball, but to no avail. “So this is how it starts?” echoed through my head, or, contrary to the 2 for $5 t-shirts, I said it doesn’t start now but it’ll start the next series. And luckily it did. But I’ve got to hand it to the 48,617 in attendance at the Dome, they kept the intensity level up, even despite that horrific start. Even Minnesota’s first play from scrimmage was loud, and we owe it to the fans for staying in the game.
So we go through the game, Syracuse takes a lead into halftime and never relinquishes it until the waning moments of the 4th quarter. With 57 seconds left after a long and time consuming Minnesota drive down the field (and WHY didn’t the Syracuse defense call time out sooner?), an Eric Ellestad 26 yard field goal tied the game at 20-20. Onto overtime, Minnesota wins the toss and elects to play defense first, which obviously is the correct strategy in the college overtime situation. Paulus and crew begin at the 25 yard line, move the ball forward, and pick up a new set of downs. Now here’s where Paulus’s inexperience and “game on the line” mentality came to bite him. Attempting to put the ball in the end zone (probably to Mike Williams again), Paulus really sees no receivers open. But, like in basketball where you have to take the last shot and hope it goes in, Paulus tried to thread the needle through about four Minnesota receivers. Interception. A toss out the back of the end zone would have set up a very doable Lichtenstein field goal, but Paulus tried to be the hero. And what a storybook ending to his first collegiate game that would have been, too. But I’m not too upset with him, even though it cost Syracuse a victory, or at least a chance at one. He can and will live and learn.
Looking ahead to this Saturday’s nooner with the Penn State Nittany Lions just gives me the creeps. Those “IT STARTS NOW” t-shirts should probably just be on hold until maybe the Northwestern game, if not until the Maine game. I have no dreams of Syracuse winning in Happy Valley. That said, we are who we are and Greg Paulus should be able to put some stats on the board. As a basketball player, he visited tons of venues where he was hated, and he simply fed off that negative energy and performed at a high level. Hopefully that can translate over to Beaver Stadium. Of course, Paulus has never heard 100,000+ people yelling at him before, so this will be very unique to football. Last year Penn State’s defense came out with a vicious enthusiasm, and I expect nothing less this week. Paulus will have less time in the pocket, and fewer options to throw to with some excellent PSU coverage in the secondary. Look for Paulus to have less than the 31 attempts he had against Minnesota, but pick up more rushing stats than last week. While I don’t think Paulus (or anyone else at SU) will be leading this team to victory, I do see this as a great opportunity for the team to play against one of the best teams in the country and to learn from it. Penn State will probably be the toughest opponent Syracuse sees all season, so if a beat down makes them stronger and wiser, then that’s fine with me. Moral victory? No. But learning experience and developing skills to help against the Northwesterns, the South Floridas, the Rutgerses, that’s what this team should look to get out of playing JoePa’s team on Saturday.
The Weekly QB Watch
Going into the upcoming game against the Penn State Nittany Lions, the probability of starting is as follows:
Greg Paulus – 100%
Ryan Nassib – 0%
Cam Dantley – 0%
Charley Loeb – 0%
Other – 0%
After a rather solid performance as the starting QB for the Orange, Greg Paulus has shown the poise and team leadership to earn the starting nod against Penn State. Plus, you know, Doug Marrone has already said Paulus is still his guy.
Follow this section each week for the predictions to change. Or stay the same. Hopefully stay the same.