Getting ugly, quickly

It was clear that Northwestern outmatched Syracuse in every way going into Saturday's 48-27 drubbing of the Orange, but why exactly did things get so messy, so quickly for the visitors? Sylvan Lane explains.

We knew Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian could sling the ball around. We knew Tony Jones and Christian Jones could bring it down. And we knew Syracuse's secondary could have major trouble stopping an aerial attack.

But did we know it would have that much trouble? 30-for-37 through the air for 375 passing -yards kind of trouble? "Holy (what the ref said) I can't believe he was that open" kind of trouble? In a word, no, we didn't.

In a Tuesday teleconference, Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer told PW he knew how difficult it would be to prepare for the Colter-Siemian combination. He quickly praised the abilities of both quarterbacks, noted how well they complement each other and added that he would need to come up with an excellent game plan.

He and his team learned that the hard way, but it wasn't just because his plan wasn't as excellent as it needed to be: It was because there was nothing Syracuse could do to implement it effectively.

If a team has a weak secondary, it needs to ramp up the pass rush by default. If you can't rely on your defensive backs to stop passes, you must turn to your defensive linemen and linebackers to rush, alter or even stop them from happening in the first place. That's what Syracuse was forced to do when it became apparent four passes and 51 seconds into the game that nothing else was going to work.

This is no slight to Colter or Siemian, who both had outstanding games. You don't just luck your way into completing 81 percent of your passes. But behind every quick pass Siemian fired off to a receiver and every incredible scramble Colter made was a Northwestern offensive line that stood like a wall.

This allowed two dangerous things to happen: Colter was able to extend plays with his feet, and ended up rushing for a net 87 yards because of it, while Siemian had enough time to wait for wide receivers to blow up the Orange coverage, rear back and drop in a perfect pass.

Simply put, everything was working for the Northwestern passing attack, and there was nothing Syracuse could do to stop it. The offensive line was able to stop the pass rush a great deal of the time, and when it couldn't, there was a receiver open anyway. And even when there wasn't a receiver open, Colter ducked, dipped and dodged around the Orange front seven all but three times he carried the ball.

How do you plan for that?

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