N’Western 42, Syracuse 41- Better Late Than Never

Ryan Nassib did his best Comeback Kid impression, but fell a little short.

After yet another bout of extreme apathy, Bleeding Orange is back with some post game analysis of SU’s thrilling, if disappointing, opening game against the Wildcats of Northwestern University.

I made this game my one trip up to the ‘Cuse for he season, so I was able to watch the contest unfold personally.  It was an almost surreal experience.  At first, I figured my prediction over at TNIAAM was right.  I didn’t think that the Orange had the offensive chops to win a game in the 20’s, much less the 40’s and the first half confirmed my suspicions.  After the Syracuse stopped a fake punt on Northwestern’s first drive, the Orange were only able to make a field goal out of the short field.  A bevy of turnovers and missed plays held them to only ten points the rest of the half while the Wildcats capitalized and took a 21-13 lead into the locker room.

Needless to say that my doubts about the Orange’s ability to put up points were unfounded.  After ultimately falling down by 22, Ryan Nassib led a furious comeback as the Orange scored 4 unanswered touchdowns to lead by six with less than three minutes. 

I might have been wrong about Syracuse’s ability to score, but my prediction that the outcome of this game would rest on the shoulders of the Orange defense was spot on.  Helped by a key personal foul by Syracuse corner Keon Lyn on a late hit out-of-bounds, the Wildcats marched down the field and scored the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to play.

Recap is done; time for analysis.  Clearly my expectations we backward.  I thought that the defense would be the strength of this team early on.  Allowing 40 points, though, certainly disproves that.  I also thought that the combination of youth and injuries would severely limit the Orange’s offensive potency.  It seemed, though, that Nassib made it his personal goal to prove me wrong and he obliterated the SU single-game completion record (44 of 65) and had 500 total yards (470 passing and 30 rushing).

It wasn’t a bad overall strategy.  As a hoops fan, it was a very basketball-esque game plan.  Put the ball in the hands of your best player(s) and let them win the game.  Along with Nassib’s record-breaking day, Marcus Sales caught 11 balls for 117 yards and a touchdown.  Still, it was the Ryan Nassib show as he spread the ball around, taking what was there and doing everything short of catching his own passes.  I question the wisdom of calling so many designed runs for him, but overall he was stellar.

What hurt the Orange in all phases was execution.  They missed a field goal in the first half.  Northwestern’s first touchdown came on an 82 yard punt return.  Nassib’s one interception was the result of a dropped screen pass by Sales.  The official stats will also credit him with a fumble as Jerome Smith failed to reel in what would be ruled a backward pass which Northwestern returned for a touchdown.  Then, on Syracuse’s final drive, needing to go 60 yards or so in forty seconds with two timeouts, the Orange couldn’t move the ball.  Nassib completely missed Christopher Clark over the middle on the last play of the game.

On the one hand, it was encouraging as a loss can be.  The offense proved that it can do some things, even if they have to lean heavily on Ryan Nassib.  They proved that they have the fight in them to make just about any game competitive (though we’ll find out for real this weekend when they take on AP #2 USC at MetLife Stadium on Saturday).

On the other hand, it’s painfully obvious that the Orange have a lot of work to do.  If they play that kind of sloppy ball against USC, they’ll lose by 70.  Ryan Nassib won’t be able to save them.  I’m encouraged by the fight, but wary about the execution.  This could be one of those seasons where Syracuse drops nine games by a total of less than 20 points.  That’s pretty much what the opener came down to.  A couple of key calls, a couple bad bounces, a couple of brain farts by the Orange.  It was close enough to be easily fixable.  But it’s also something that could easily happen again and again and again.

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