Five Bye Week Tweaks For Syracuse
Though Syracuse has struggled throughout the month of September, there’s still time to get the ball rolling and make a dominant impact in Big East play. Read on for some key things for the Orange to focus on as they finish up the bye week and head back to the Dome Friday vs. Pitt.
• Strong O-line Play. Ryan Nassib was sacked three times last week at Minnesota, after only being sacked three times total in the first three games of the season. Syracuse got beat in the trenches at TCF Bank Stadium, as Nassib had little time in the pocket to make decisions – leading to some unproductive quarterback keepers and inaccurate passes resulting in a stalled offense and several turnovers. In left tackle Justin Pugh’s absence, sophomore Sean Hickey has stepped in and senior Lou Alexander, a junior college transfer, has been playing right tackle. Hickey has been a consistent and productive addition to the line, while Alexander has struggled at times. This week, Justin Pugh returns from a shoulder injury that has kept him out of practice and games so far this season. He will start at left tackle, Alexander will get the boot, and Hickey will fill in the spot at right tackle. This change looks to move mountains for the Syracuse offense, making the line stronger and giving Nassib more time to do what he does best.
• Less Mental Miscues (penalties, turnovers). Syracuse football fans have become all too familiar with the idea of “shooting ourselves in the foot” in recent years. Quarterback Ryan Nassib mentioned it in an interview after last week’s loss to the Golden Gophers, in which Syracuse committed four turnovers and 10 penalties. In order to stand a chance at success heading into Big East play vs. Pitt after the bye week, this Syracuse team needs to get its head in the game. Coach Doug Marrone has taken the blame for mental errors, saying he needs to do a better job at coaching and overseeing the “structure and discipline of the program.” We’re at a crucial point in the season, and it’s go-time. They’ll be back in the Carrier Dome Friday night, which means less noise distractions for the offense, but avoiding the petty false start penalties and inexcusable fumbles are key; the difference between a season of success and one of disappointment is in Syracuse’s own hands right now.
• Red Zone Execution. Starting with the opening game vs. Northwestern, Syracuse has developed a penchant for driving down the field, getting the ball in the red zone, and simply failing to convert touchdowns. With a “take the points” mentality and habitually safe play-calling style, offensive coordinator Nate Hackett and the Syracuse offense need to finish what they start each and every time. Instead of playing a game of “almosts,” botched third downs, and measly field goals, this offense needs to use the talent it has to get to the end zone. Veteran QB Ryan Nassib has a killer arm and a deep receiving corps (including WR Adrian Flemming who will return this week after an ankle sprain), Syracuse has power runners in Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, and after a much-needed bye week, the Orange have a healthy, solid offensive line that’s ready to go. There’s no excuse – they’ve just got to put up, and it’s now or never for the 1-3 Orange.
• The Front Seven (pressure, pressure, pressure). The Syracuse defense has done a decent job so far this season. Though it gave up 42 points against Northwestern and USC, it held Stony Brook and Minnesota to 17 each. Obviously, the storyline goes much deeper than that – it held USC scoreless through the first quarter and put up a resilient fight throughout the game, while Minnesota drove straight into the red zone and simply missed field goal attempts twice last week. Regardless, this defense has got to be more explosive in Big East play. With just four forced turnovers by the Orange this season, secondary superstars like Shamarko Thomas and Jeremi Wilkes have got to step up. More importantly, the front seven needs to put more pressure on the pocket and blitz – and also defend against the run. SU football beat writer Dave Rahme of the Syracuse Post-Standard points out that Big East teams love their power running games, so the Syracuse defense needs to get ready to fill the holes and stop big gains. Syracuse has got the talent in guys like veteran DT Deon Goggins and junior college transfer DE Markus Pierce-Brewster. It’s time to put that talent to good use.
• Momentum Control. After three disappointing losses, this Syracuse team must come out of the gates ready to go this week. The Orange often starts slow, failing to put points on the board and giving up big plays and points to opponents. This essentially means digging a deep hole that becomes impossible to get out of by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. The Orange needs to get momentum going on offense and a stalwart approach going on defense, from the opening kickoff all the way to the final whistle. It’s simple, fundamental, hard-nosed football: if the offense makes productive drives that end in actual scores and the defense refuses to give up big plays, the Orange will be able to control momentum through all four quarters and come out on top.
The ‘Cuse has got the talent. They just need to make some adjustments, get their heads screwed on right, and embrace the “bend, don’t break” mentality that could very well define this season. A rough start doesn’t mean they can’t bounce back. This bye week comes at the perfect time, and starting Friday, it’s a Big East farewell tour – and it’s “bowl or bust” time for Doug Marrone and his Orange.