Though Syracuse senior quarterback Ryan Nassib has evolved into and efficient passer — completing 71. 4 percent of his passes with just one interception in 126 attempts — the Orange want to establish the run first. Senior running back Antwon Bailey has waited three years to be the lead back, and he has taken advantage of the role in 2011, amassing 318 yards in four games this season. He has scored each of the team's three rushing touchdowns and averages better than 4 yards per carry. Backup RB Prince-Tyson Gulley (so.) emerged as a solid change-of-pace last week against Toledo, notching career-highs in carries (10) and yards (66).
The passing offense — led by Nassib — features several weapons at every level. Wide Receivers Alec Lemon and Van Chew are rangy, lanky targets on the outside that can make plays both in traffic and down the field. Both starters lead the team with three scores each. Senior tight end Nick Provo has become a favorite of Nassib, and he has 11 catches to his name over the last two games including a 25-yard score last week. Bailey can also leak out of the backfield at times, though he averages just 6.6 yards per catch.
Coach Doug Marrone likes to give multiple looks to keep defenders off balance, but he gives Nassib the freedom to check out of several plays when warranted. The offense produced a crucial fourth-quarter score last Saturday on a goal-line audible to help edge out the Rockets in overtime. The offensive line has come together over the first month of the season, allowing Nassib to get sacked just twice on third down.
The Syracuse defensive line has been consistent against the run all season long, giving up less than 3.5 yards per carry thus far. The pass-rush, however, has produced minimal pressure over the last two weeks which put the banged-up secondary in a bind. Veterans Deon Groggins and Mikhail Marinovich lead the group.
The linebackers have seen the most turnover on the defense, but the moves have provided depth at the position. Sophomore Marquise Spruill may be the best of the bunch, but injury has slowed him down of late. He works well against both the run and the pass along with freshman Cameron Lych and senior Dan Vaugh — who each sit just behind Spruill in tackles.
The Orange secondary is by-far the most battered group on the entire roster and the unit has suffered by the numbers as a result, ranking near the bottom of the country in passing defense by allowing nearly 280 yards per game. Safety and then-leading tackler Shamarko Thomas (junior) has been out with a hamstring injury, and sophomore cornerback Keon Lyn has been in and out of the lineup with several ailments. Even with the shuffle, junior safety Phillip Thomas has proved to be a consistent tackler on the way to a team-leading 30 stops in four games. Senior cornerback Kevyn Scott has provided leadership for the unit, getting his hands on three interceptions already this season — including one in overtime against Toledo that provided Syracuse with the game-winning OT possession.