Syracuse-15, Rutgers- 23: Time to Face Facts

The looks on their faces tell you everything you need to know.

Ugh.

That pretty much sums up Syracuse‘s beyond woeful performance against Rutgers this past Saturday.  It was a microcosm of the season thus far; a close, winnable game thrown away via a variety of mental mistakes and miscues. Questionable play calls, bad penalties and worse turnovers were the order of the day.  To watch this game was to know what the 2012 football season as been for the Orange.

There’s no sense in delving too deeply into the stats.  On paper, Syracuse dominated the game.  Ryan Nassib completed more passes that his counterpart in scarlet even attempted.  Marcus Sales had his fourth 100 yard receiving game in six starts.  The Syracuse defense held Big East-leading rusher Jawan Jamison to 64 yards on 28 carries after he had run for at least 100 in six straight games, dating back to the Knight’s Pinstripe Bowl win over Iowa State last season.  The Orange out gained the Scarlet Knights by 180 yards.  Looking at the box score, you’d think that Syracuse won this one going away.

We Orange fans, though, know more than maybe any other fan base in America that box scores don’t mean jack.  Syracuse has been know to put up impressive numbers without W’s to back them up.  Otherwise solid performances have been undone by shoddy discipline and execution.  In this game, the stat that really matters is; Syracuse- 4 TO, Rutgers- 0 TO.

And it’s not so much the number of turnovers, but when they were committed.  After Nassib completed a 40 yard TD to Christopher Clark and a 2pt conversion to Sales, the Orange were within 8.  The D did its part and got the ball back with just under three minutes to go.  Even as horribly as they played in the second half, Syracuse still had a chance to tie the game.  That is, of course, until Nassib, promptly threw a pick on his first pass attempt of the drive.  A clock killing Rutgers drive and a few Syracuse hook and lateral plays later, the game was over and the Orange were left to trudge home after another sickening defeat.

So now it’s time to face the music.  The season is officially halfway done and by now we can say with certainty what kind of squad this iteration of Syracuse football is.  I’ll be the first to say it.

This team isn’t good.

You can point to the numbers put up by Nassib and Sales.  You can point to Alec Lemon of the all-time receptions record.  You can point to the fact that Syracuse’s best offensive lineman has only played in two games this season.  You can point to a defense that has risen to the occasion the last couple games after getting punked early in the season.  All of these are good things and I’m not taking anything away from what any of these parts of done.

But Syracuse isn’t a good football team.  Early on, the offense was lighting up the scoreboard, but the D couldn’t stop anybody.  Lately, the D has stepped its game up, but the offense has been flaccid.  The problem is, neither side is good enough to do it on their own.  Syracuse isn’t Alabama.  They can’t win games on the strength of allowing opponents only 7.5 PPG.  And the Orange aren’t the Oregon Ducks, able to drop 50 on everybody and win shootouts.  Syracuse needs to play well on both sides of the ball in order to win and, so far, they’ve been unable to do so.

There a too many variables to really point the finger at one thing or the other and assign blame for Syracuse’s inability to win games.  It’s not just a player or players.  It’s not just the coaches.  It’s the entire package.  But what I can say is that isn’t a good team.  Close losses be damned.  Good teams win close games.  Sure, good teams don’t win all the close ones…but they don’t throw away all the close ones either.  That’s what Syracuse has done.  They’ve taken winnable games and tossed them away like some disposable Jersey floozy.

And even if the Orange right the ship, make it to 6-6 and back their way into some meaningless bowl game, I’d still stop myself short of dubbing this team “good”.  Scrappy?  Sure.  Resilient?  Ok.  Good?  Not so much.  Good teams don’t continually beat themselves, which Syracuse has made a habit of doing in 2012.  It makes it hard to feel confident going into any game, when the first obstacle that the Orange have to overcome always has an ‘S’ on its helmet.

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