|Paul Pasqualoni got the last laugh on Saturday as Doug Marrone goes to 0-3 v UConn|
I waited a full day to write about the horrible 28-21 loss Syracuse had to Connecticut yesterday. I waited specifically so I could clear my head and rationally discuss what may have been the most disappointing loss of the Doug Marrone era. I'm not sure I'm there but I also don't think I ever will be, so it's time to get out a few thoughts that have been marinating in my brain. This may take a while, so settle in.
Two weeks after a big win against West Virginia (a win that already looks less impressive) the program has slid to the bottom of a bad Big East conference. After taking some really nice steps forward last year, and then showing signs of breaking out this year, Syracuse laid a second consecutive huge egg and is now 1-3 in conference play. The team sits at 5-4 overall and bowl eligibility, something that was a mere formality two weeks ago is very much in doubt.
With a loss this week to the least talented team in the league, coming on the heels of a rout at Louisville, it's certainly fair to question what direction the program is going in, and what exactly is the ceiling for Doug Marrone as a head coach.
That may seem harsh and reactionary, but let's consider the facts for a moment. Big East football is bad. It has been bad for a while, and that has been especially true for the three years Marrone has been on the job. Right now CBS Sports has the Big East rated as the eighth toughest conference in the country. If you're keeping track at home - that's not good.
Since taking over the Orange, Marrone's record in this bad conference is 6-12. Batting .333 will get you into an All-Star game, but this isn't baseball. A .333 winning percentage gets football coaches fired. To be fair, he did inherit a mess and no one expected SU to start running the table as soon as he got the gig, but after going 1-6 in his first year, he's gone 5-6 since. He has never beaten Louisville. He has never beaten Connecticut. He is 0-2 against Pitt and this year's upcoming game doesn't look promising. SU needs to run the table in conference play to have a winning record in the league. That's highly unlikely.
These numbers are most certainly a small sample size, but the fact of the matter is, for a guy who promised SU was going to win and win now, when Syracuse lines up against Big East foes, they lose twice as much as they win. This is happening when other coaches are succeeding. Charlie Strong is winning games with true freshman. Greg Schiano of all people is winning by playing two quarterbacks (who frankly aren't very good) and making it work. This isn't the SEC, every Big East game is winnable, yet Syracuse sits at 1-3. Seventh in the conference. You are what your record says you are and this year, right now, Syracuse isn't very good.
Now let's be clear here, I'm not saying Marrone should be fired. He's done too much good and its far too soon to even entertain that notion. However, for the first time since he's taken over I'm wondering if he's capable of putting together a team and a staff that will get Syracuse into contention for conference championships or whether he'll just be another Greg Schiano. Schiano is a guy who turned around a mess of a program and now schedules his team to decent records and crappy bowls, but never won a conference title and has one meaningful win in 11 years. Obviously this is crucial, since the move to the ACC means stiffer competition is just around the corner.
We know this team will never be a true contender until Marrone and his staff can figure out how to implement a successful offensive system, because the one that's in place now isn't working. Frankly he hasn't gotten it done on that side of the ball since he's been here. Whether it was Rob Spence and the bubble screen to nowhere offense, or the multiple formation, pro-set, power running/play action dud we've seen for the last two seasons, the Orange rarely strike fear into opposing defenses (unless that defense is West Virginia).
And that is what is most frustrating to many Orange fans. It's frustrating because we've been waiting for 13 years to watch a decent offensive football team. Last year's success was wonderful, but it came about largely because a stifling defense carried the team. This year, the defense isn't as good and wasn't able to shut the door against Connecticut and when SU needed the offense to carry they day, they simply weren't good enough.
Marrone has said the team will keep working to make plays. I certainly believe that. But I also believe that after two years of watching this offense sputter and fail, either what he's asking his players to do is too difficult for them to properly execute, or the scheme doesn't work. Either way, there needs to be some changes this off-season, because stubbornly repeating the same thing and getting poor results is insane. Things that worked in the Super Dome don't always work in the Carrier Dome.
Look, we want Doug Marrone to succeed and to a degree, he already has. He's restored pride in the program and went to a bowl game. No one wants another coach. No one questions his work ethic or that of the team. I believe everyone in the program is working their ass off. I really do. No one wants to go through another rebuilding process, especially given the fact that there's a 50/50 chance who ever replaces him won't be any better.
We know it takes time to turn around a program and Syracuse doesn't have $5 million a year to spend on a new guy. Doug Marrone wants to be here and he will be the coach for as long as he can get the job done. We love his passion for the area and the University.
However, you can't help be but disheartened after watching this team the last two weeks. You can't keep losing to bad teams and think things will turn around. This off-season Doug Marrone the head coach might need to fire Doug Marrone the offensive coordinator (while Hackett has the title, this is Doug's offense) if he wants Doug Marrone to bring this program back to BCS Bowl games.
As to the game itself, here are a new quick thoughts:
- When you have a "slow strike" offense that that generates no big plays like SU, field position is critical. SU was in a hole all day thanks to some horrific special teams play. When we do an autopsy on this season, the main cause of death for both the Rutgers loss and this loss one could be pinned special teams. It's been a recurring problem throughout Marrone's tenure and this team isn't good enough to survive mistakes in this area.
- Obviously if you create five turnovers on defense and turn them into zero points you don't deserve to win.
- UConn has two quarterbacks that can't pass the ball and still scored 28 points. For whatever reason the defense just decided to stop wrapping up in the second half. It was inexplicable.
- I'd like to see SU use Dorian Graham as the primary kick returner instead of Jeremiah Kobena. Graham takes one to the house against WVU and then doesn't get another chance. He's more experienced than Kobena and I think he'd do a better job of finding the holes out there.
- Ross Krautman has a slight groin pull. With the way he kicked off, I hope it was more than just a slight pull, because he was awful. I think he has set a record for kicking the ball out of bounds on kick offs. It's a mistake you can't make.
- I miss Rob Long.
- I have never, in more than 30 years of watching football, seen an offense that cannot operate outside of the hash marks quite like this one. If the play isn't a slant or a TE drag, it's not working. Nassib struggles on those throws and either doesn't trust his receivers to make plays, or they are always blanketed.
- It was a great game for Alec Lemon.
- We've always loved Van Chew, but in the last 5 games he has 11 catches for 100 yards. Syracuse absolutely has to get more production than that out of that slot. Even if he's open and Nassib isn't giving him a chance, it might be time to get someone else out there to see what happens.
- The missed tackles were Greg Robinson-esque. That hasn't been a big problem all year but it is what makes this team so crazily-infuriating to watch. One week they are making a terrible Tulane QB look like Tom Brady and a few weeks later they pick the ball off bunch of times but look like Rocky chasing a chicken when it comes to tackling.
- I don't think Connecticut wins another game this year.
- Syracuse and South Florida play Friday night - the loser is officially the worst team in the Big East. Yikes.