Monday, September 17, 2012
Syracuse Football at the Quarter Pole
We are three games into the 2012 Syracuse football season and amazingly that means 25 percent of this year's slate is in the books. Doug Marrone likes to break the season up in quarters so we'll do the same thing. Here are some general thoughts on the team at the end of first quarter and then a few thoughts on the Big East in general.
I'ts been an odd start to the season. The losses to Northwestern and USC almost felt more like wins than the mistake prone victory win over Stony Brook did. That being said, thanks to a tough schedule I feel like we know more about this team now than we did about either the 2010 or 2011 teams at this point in the season.
In both of those years the Orange started out 2-1, but those 4 wins came against Akron, Maine, Wake Forest, and a squeaker against Rhode Island. The losses were both on the West Coast - to Washington and USC, and therefore could be chalked up almost as much to travel as talent. This year, while the team is 1-2, the outlook on the season feels more optimistic, because....
For the first time in the Doug Marrone era, Syracuse can outscore people. The 2012 version of offense, while too sloppy at times, is potent. Ryan Nassib, who by the end of last year looked limited and potentially at the top of his developmental ceiling, has taken his game to a new level. The no-huddle, spread attack is running more plays, keeping opposing defenses from substituting situationally and Nassib is making throws he missed last year.
Having Marcus Sales and an emerging Jarrod West has helped and Prince Tyson Gulley is a great fit for an offense that gets him the ball in space. The new offense also benefits Mackey MacPherson, a smart, experienced center who struggled to blow bigger players off the blocks, but gets the most out of his abilities in the spread.
It hasn't been perfect - as Justin Pugh needs to return ASAP since Lou "the turnstile" Alexander has been awful at right tackle, but there's no denying the fact that the new system is working. Syracuse is racking up yards a pace we haven't seen since Donovan McNabb was under center.
The early verdict on the defense is more muddled. The unit has given up far too many big plays and while it appears that the defensive line has adequately replaced Chandler Jones, small linebackers and problems in the secondary persist.
I like what I've seen out of Sirki Diabate at the middle linebacker spot, you can't coach size and he simply doesn't have it, as evidenced by the fact that he got trucked in the first half against Stony Brook. In the secondary cornerbacks Ri'shard Anderson and Keon Lyn are experienced, have very good size and pass the the look test, but both struggle to make plays on the ball when it's in the air. To be fair Matt Barkley makes a lot of corners look bad, but I was hoping at least of one these guys would make the leap to becoming really good corner. There's still time, but it hasn't happened so far. The bright spot in the secondary has been Shamarko Thomas, who has been a stud.
The special teams has been a dumpster fire plain and simple. Marrone has to get more speed on the punt coverage teams and the almost automatic Ross Krautman is doing his best Billy Cundiff impersonation this season. You don't need to be a genius...or a high school graduate.....to know that until, which is completely under Marrone's purview, needs to make huge strides. Here is actual footage of Syracuse trying to cover punts against Northwestern:
The best analogy I can come with for this team is one from the world of golf. I'm a 12 handicap, which isn't bad, but it isn't great. If you're a 12 and you aren't going to win any club championships, but if you can put everything together, you can occasionally break 80 and feel pretty damn good about yourself. Of course you can also spray the driver all over the place, three putt every green and shoot 98 - which is what this team did to close out the 2011 season. So far this year I believe they'll be closer to the low 80s than upper 90s and that's good news because...
Big East Impressions
Big East isn't very good again this year. Right now there's Louisville and everyone else. I've seen every team play (with the exception of Temple) and honestly there's no reason why SU can't go 5-2 in this conference. Louisville is certainly the team to beat and all of a sudden Pitt doesn't look like the worst team in the world - but UConn and Rutgers have issues offensively, Cincinnati is turnover prone and South Florida is South Florida -- a perpetual underachiever. There isn't a game on the schedule the team can't win....of course, they haven't proven anything yet, so the reverse is also true.
However, I doubt that is going to happen. Ryan Nassib, Marcus Sales and company have been too good against good competition so far. At the quarter pole, the Orange are still in position to do good things in 2012.