After a disappointing result against the USC Trojans down in Jersey, the Orange returned home to the Carrier Dome on Saturday to take on FCS power Stony Brook. After struggling in the first half, Syracuse put the clamps on in the second, coming away with a 28-17 victory.
Offensively, it was the Ryan Nassib and Marcus Sales show once again. Nassib went 22/35 for 335 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had 30 yards rushing on six carries. Sales didn’t record a catch in the first half, but ended up with five grabs for 117 yards and a TD for the game. It was Sale’s fourth consecutive game with 100+ yards and a TD, dating back to his break out performance in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl.
Running backs Prince Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith also chipped in. Though Smith failed to find the end zone, he rumbled for 95 yards on 16 carries. PTG had a rough day running the ball, including a fumble, but he was able to take a swing pass from Nassib 61 yards in the first quarter for the Orange’s first TD.
Stony Brook leaned on their stellar running attack, led by Miguel Maysonet, who gashed the Orange for 158 yards on 21 carries, including a 71 yard TD run. That’s pretty much the whole story for the Sea Wolves offense, though, as QB Kyle Essington was only 4/19 for 94 yards, one TD and two INT. Most of that came on a 63 yard play to speedster Kevin Norrel for the game’s first TD.
I’m not one of those people that jumps on the “best 1-2 team in the country” bandwagon. While it might be true, that seems like a pretty flaccid distinction and one I’d rather not embrace. At the same time, I’m not going to bash this win either because the Orange, once again, struggled to put away an FCS team. Stony Brook won the Big South three years in a row. They’re stocked with boatloads of FBS transfers who either couldn’t wait their turn to play, or were struggling academically. Their second RB, Marcus Coker, transferred from Iowa, where he was the second leading rusher in the B1G with nearly 1,400 yards and fifteen TDs last season. In the 2010 Insight Bowl, he ran over Mizzou to the tune of 213 yards and two TDs. And, hell, the only reason Miguel Maysonet isn’t wearing orange right now is because Marrone didn’t have a scholarship to offer the young man when he was coming out of high school. In short, the Sea Wolves, despite a particularly stupid nickname, aren’t just a good FCS team. They’re an outstanding FCS team that would have given any number of FBS team fits.
All that being said, it was good to have a game where the Orange could make mistakes to learn from and still come away with a win. Call me a Debbie Downer or a Negative Nancy, but the defense and special teams are very much a work in progress. Granted, regular return man Jeremiah Kobena is out for the forseeable future, but the return game was awful. The low light was a kickoff that was clearly headed either out-of-bounds or into the end zone, yet replacement KR Steve Rene felt the need to field inside the 15…and then promptly stepped out-of-bounds. The kicking game wasn’t much better as the punters struggled all day and Ross Krautman went 0-2 on field goal attempts. Das Boot managed to save face by making all of his PATs.
On the defensive side, it was a tale of two halves. They were stellar in the second, holding the Sea Wolves to 24 total yards and zero first downs. In the first, though, they were abysmal, yielding huge chunks of yardage to Maysonet and Coker. Now, again, neither player is exactly chopped liver and Stony Brook is a power rushing team. Still, if the Orange are going to give up that kind of yardage on the ground to Stony Brook, what are then going to do when Ray Graham comes to town or when its Jawan Jamison toting the rock? When the season began, I thought that the Orange would have to lean on the defense early in the season and that the linebacking corps would be a strength of the unit. I was wrong on both counts. The Orange are giving up 33.7 PPG (good for a smashing 93rd in the nation) and their run defense has been beyond porous. The D is on the young side, but they have enough veteran leadership and talent to be much better than they have been. They need to stiffen up if Syracuse is going to make it to 6+ wins.
Of, course, it’s not all doom and gloom. The offense, though inconsistent, has the ability to catch absolute fire when it’s on. The Orange are 15th in the nation in total offense (533.33 YPG) and third in passing offense. Ryan Nassib is second in the nation to Marshall’s Rakeem Cato in passing YPG and total passing yards. Marcus Sales is among the top wide outs in the country, ranking forth in total receiving yards. The Orange haven’t had this kind of QB/WR connection since the days of Graves and Harrison. And Nassib is getting others involved as well. Jarrod West is coming along nicely and Sir Alec Lemon, coming off a record-breaking 68 catch season, just passed one Marvin Harrison for third on the all-time receptions list.
Still, it all comes back to Nassib and his ability to make the proper reads and get the ball where it has to go. Sales is clearly the favorite target with 25 catches, nearly double that of the closest teammate. After Sales, though, there are three players with double-digit catches; PTG (14), West (13) and Beckett Wales (11), a RB, WR and TE respectively. There are five guys with at least five catches, two WR, two RB and a TE.
Ryan Nassib is on the cusp of becoming the most statistically accomplished quarterback in Syracuse history. He’s on pace to pass for over 4,500 yards this season, demolishing his own record of 2,685, set last season. He’s on pace for 36 TD passes, which would destroy the previous record of 22 he shares with McPherson and McNabb. And that’s not to mention the bevy of career marks that are bound to fall. Sure, much of that comes from the relatively wide-open offense he plays as opposed to the rush heavy option packages guys like McPherson, Graves and McNabb ran. Still, Nassib isn’t putting up these numbers against cupcakes. He’s not throttling Youngstown State. He’s putting up legit numbers against legit competition. Not only that, but he’s the true maestro of the offense.
I didn’t think I’d say this during this season, but the Orange are going to go as far as their offense takes them. With Nassib at the helm, they have a fighting chance.