Has the Syracuse offense had any Red Zone swagger?
So, here we sit. A third of the season behind us. The entire Big East slate ahead of us, along with a random trip to Missouri. But the four games the Orange has played so far tells us a lot about what we can expect, a lot about what needs to be fixed, and a lot about our expectations of this program's direction.
After Syracuse fell short to Northwestern in the season opener 42-41, and then put up a hell of a fight against Southern California, there was a lot of positivism and excitement around the program. Syracuse was "the best 0-2 team in the nation." Moral victories don't mean anything, but we certainly felt that the Orange was this close to being good.
Then there was that "disappointing" win against Stony Brook.
It was classic Syracuse "play to the level of your competition." SBU was certainly no push-over, being one of the best FCS teams in the country. But that's not supposed to matter. FBS teams are supposed to manhandle FCS teams. Syracuse, in many ways, was lucky to leave Ernie Davis Legends Field with a win.
So it all came down to the game in Minnesota. It was a chance for the Orange to win a big game on the road against a quality BCS conference opponent. It was a chance to pick up momentum heading into a bye week before hitting the conference schedule head on. And what did Syracuse do? Blew it.
But it was inevitable. We should have seen it coming. Ryan Nassib's impressive numbers; the offense's ability to move the chains; the "we're almost there" mentality. It was all fake. It was a bunch of getting really worked up, and then getting disappointed, having nothing to show for it. Football blue balls.
Really what I'm talking about is an inability to consistently convert yards gained to points. Syracuse was great at moving the ball down the field, but then would get within field goal range and stall. Little to nothing to show for the 50-60 yards it had just gained.
My assumption was that it was Red Zone inefficiency. But then I looked at the stats. In 2012's four games so far, Syracuse has been in the Red Zone 18 times: 15 scores (83%), with 11 touchdowns (61%) and four field goals (22%). That shocked me. That's pretty decent Red Zone efficiency, especially on the TD side of things.
The problem must be Syracuse just not quite getting to the Red Zone. And this is where I think the much talked about mistakes, penalties, and questionable play-calling come in. I won't go on and on about it here; much better articles have been written and sports radio interviews have thoroughly covered those topics. But, isn't that where the Orange Achilles Heel is?
Last week's bye couldn't have come at a better time, as it turns out. Some time to put the brakes on a team careening out of control. Some time to rework the offensive playbook for the opponent's side of the field. Some time to re-instill the basic tenets of rules and discipline.
Let's face it: the Big East is wide open. Yeah, Louisville's 5-0, Rutgers 4-0, Cincinnati 3-0; but there's a lot of football to be played. And that same feeling we had about the team after it started 0-2 can still be felt. We can't just be this close. We can be there. Or here, I guess. It of course depends on fixing those things I just mentioned, but there's eight games left, and only five wins needed to qualify for a bowl game.
When Syracuse plays Pittsburgh on Friday, it will have been 350 days since the Orange beat a FBS opponent. I'm all for putting on our orange-tinted glasses and hoping for the best.