The Syracuse Orange has its first bye week of the season right at the midway mark, after the first six games. And, as was largely expected, Syracuse finds itself with a 4-2 record. For that, we should all be happy: two wins away from a bowl berth. String a few more wins together and they secure a winning season for the second time in a row. Yet, I bet many of you don't feel so good about this particular 4-2 record. The margin of victory in those four wins was 7, 7, 3, and 3. Two were in overtime. One loss was a blowout, while the other was a tight OT loss. And one of the wins, well, was aided by some crossbar controversy. It's been quite a first half, so let's break it down, report card style!
Without a doubt, this offense lives and dies by quarterback Ryan Nassib. Luckily, Nassib has had himself a good-to-decent season thus far: 124 of 192 (good for 65%), 1294 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He's football-smart, understands the playbook, and can read the defense and check down to find his open receivers. He does the best he can with a somewhat conservative play-calling from the sidelines. Antwon Bailey is the other pillar of this offense, and he has been inconsistent at best. Bailey has 124 carries for 553 yards and five touchdowns -- good numbers, but it sure seems low for what Syracuse fans historically have come to expect from their running backs. Bailey's got the talent; I think he's been the victim of play-calling and of a shaky offensive line. Areas that need improvement: the aforementioned offensive line, and the wide receivers. The WR have experience and talent, but we're not seeing it being used; that's why Head Coach Doug Marrone basically opened up the spots to any receiver on the team who can perform. Kudos to the coach. Play the players who can play. Novel idea. Bottom line: the offense is getting pretty good output and scoring points, but has a lot to improve upon; B+.
Coming into the season, we knew the defense would be the big question mark about this year's team. This was a rather young and inexperienced group of athletes, and nobody was sure how they'd perform. Well, mediocre was the answer, until a few key players went down with injuries. It's quite evident that this defense needs Chandler Jones and Shamarko Thomas out on the field. Thomas is back, and Jones will be ready to start next Friday against West Virginia, so look for the defense to get that boost. Hopefully during the bye week they're working on two glaring issues: pass coverage, and tackling. It's been, in a word, atrocious. Makes me think back to the great defenses of one Greg Robinson. Maybe we're spoiled having seen such a good defense last year, but this defense has single-handedly allowed teams back in the game after Syracuse had a lead. On the same token, though, the defense has, at times, stepped up. So, in light of everything, they get a very gracious B-.
This has been the most inconsistent unit of the team all season. Obviously with the loss to graduation of Rob Long came the difficult task of finding his replacement; a task that even Marrone has found difficult. Shane Raupers won the nod, but was soon replaced by Jonathan Fisher. Now it's a free-for-all. I'm OK with whoever does better in practice that week getting the game time, as long as the kicks in the game do what we want. The bigger question on the special teams to me has been our place kicking situation. Ross Krautman, who we once assumed was Mr. Automatic, has been found to not be quite so automatic. Between missed field goals and missed (or not missed?) extra points, one has to wonder if Ross is broken. One bright spot on special teams has been on returns, specifically those like Jeremiah Kobena who had a 79-yard kickoff return against Tulane. Football is a game of field position, and much of that burden rests on the special teams unit. Good, but room for improvement. C+.
Many fans out there are becoming increasingly frustrated at the conservative play calls from Doug Marrone & Co. Those fans probably see this B grade and laugh. And I admit: the same, predictable calls, the unwillingness to take a shot, it doesn't make for the kind of exciting football we saw at Yankee Stadium at the Pinstripe Bowl. But every game isn't the Pinstripe Bowl. In fact, only one is. And to get there, or to any other bowl, there's one thing this team must do: win. This coaching staff has led this team to four wins in six games. A messy win is still a win. A bad win is still a win. A boring win is still a win. Earlier in the season when Syracuse beat FCS opponent Rhode Island by seven, Doug Marrone proclaimed that "We're not good enough to be upset over a win." And, unfortunately, I think this will be the theme for the rest of the season. Maybe we're the worst 4-2 team in the country. But, we're still 4-2. And for that, the coaches get a solid B.
I think giving the team a B- at the halfway mark is a fair grade. There's lots of room for improvement, and there's a lot of football yet to be played, but they have a winning record, have found ways to win tough games, and they just don't give up out there.
I still don't know what to think of the fan base for Syracuse. While there have been some great Orange-contingents at away games, the attendance in the Dome is leaving much to be desired. Big kudos to SU Athletics for trying different things to get people into the Dome. A new partnership with IMG College aims to increase attendance, so let's see how this works.
Syracuse has nothing but Big East games for the second half of the season. These are the games that determine the Big East champion. These are also the schools (except for our solidarity partner Pittsburgh) who presumably now hate us for defecting to the ACC; I would expect to hear the same kind of hate that we spewed to VTech, Miami, and Boston College several years back. How the team responds in those hostile atmospheres will speak to how good the team actually is.
Two Friday night ESPN games from the Carrier Dome: West Virginia this coming Friday at 8pm, and the Homecoming game against South Florida on November 11 at 8pm (espn2). Please please please make a good impression on national television!
The only game the rest of the season I will not be attending is the one at Louisville in two weeks. In addition to the home games, I'm also travelling to UConn and Pittsburgh. The lengths we here at Orange::44 take to cover these games for you is worthy of a medal! Or at least a ribbon. Or a pat on the back.
We're now also in that awkward part of the calendar where our attention on football is somewhat distracted by basketball. And this is an OK thing, because basketball is looking A-OK! Brian and I both attended Midnight Madness last night; look for his thoughts on that in a post coming soon to Orange::44. And if you need a daily reminder of how much you hate Georgetown, be sure to visit Hoya Suxa. He never disappoints.
Labels: Syracuse Football