The Syracuse Orange have much work to do if it wants to get back in the win column, and the way the afternoon turned out against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights last week was unacceptable at-best. But the few bright spots could prove to be a big part of the team's success going forward.
Turnovers, missed assignments and leaving points on the board
Offensively, the Orange moved the ball well for most of the game, but it wasn't able to finish drives once in the red zone. Not only that, but the team turned the ball over and ended up with no points on several occasions.
Quarterback Ryan Nassib all but took blame for the loss after the game as a result of his three interceptions, but he actually played fairly well. The first pick was on a designed play in which the lineman set up for the screen to soon, and the second one was on a tipped pass that should have been hauled in for a touchdown by freshman Kyle Foster. Nassib's most careless play was on the fourth-and-long late in the game, when he failed to see the defender slide underneath the route which resulted in another interception.
Still, his 5-for-13 passing for 57 yards and that last interception in the fourth quarter is not acceptable. Heading into the game, he was 30-for-34 in the fourth-quarter and overtime this season. Nassib will rebound, but the Rutgers pressure had something to do with the ineffectiveness as well.
Antown Bailey, though he had book-end fumbles that ultimately cut the game short, was effective for most of the afternoon. He broke the first defender's tackle more times than not, and he was solid in blitz-pick-up once again. Both fumbles occurred when he had the ball in his left hand, so it's something to keep in mind going forward. He notched his third 100-yard game of 2011. Jerome Smith spelled Bailey on a key drive, breaking several tackles on just three carries.
The receiving corps was not on-par in this one. Van Chew (though he blocked well) missed out on a pair of catches, one because of a drop and a second because he was unable to get his head around quick enough for Nassib's pass. Alec Lemon also had some drops, and he continues to struggle when it comes to gaining separation from defensive backs. Dorian Graham was the best of the bunch in the passing game, making solid grabs and capturing the momentum on his 30-yard catch-and-run late in the game that he nearly stretched into a game-winning score. Tight end Nick Provo was consistent in the passing game again, hauling in four passes for 50 yards, breaking several tackles in the process. He was a bit underwhelming as a blocker, though an ongoing shoulder injury could have something to do with it.
The big boys up front again proved to be the best group on the offensive side of the ball. They rarely missed assignments, and Nassib was sacked just twice as a result. The running lanes were far and wide for Bailey, even on his two fumbles, which occurred down the field. The only time Rutgers was able to stymie the offensive line was when they overloaded one side of the ball on a blitz, bringing more players than Syracuse had blockers.
Defense ruled the day
Even in a tough loss, the SU defense was as dominant as can be. Coordinator Scott Shafer blitzed more times than he has in recent memory, and it worked. It wasn't just the play-calls, as certain players executed them to perfection on the way to limiting the Scarlet Knight offense to just 302 total yards over four quarters and double-overtime.
The defensive line was the most consistent unit of the defense Saturday, clogging running lanes and wreaking havoc in the passing game by penetrating the RU offensive line. Deon Goggins may have had the best game of his career. He had just three tackles officially, one for a loss, but he was in the Rutgers backfield at least once per series. He has a very effective club technique that consistently helps him to rip through blockers. Mikhail Marinovich recorded two sacks, and he was sound as usual in his contain against both the run and the pass. Brandon Sharpe had an up-and-down afternoon. He had a pair of early mental errors, including a personal foul that extended a drive, but he was disruptive later on and got off of blocks effectively in pursuit of the passer.
The linebackers were solid in the loss, especially against the run. Dan Vaughn was all over the field on the way to a career-high 15 tackles, but he missed some early assignments. Marquise Spruill was the team's best pass-blitzer, running through blocks seemingly at will. He is noticeably more physical now that he's healthy. Cameron Lynch was solid at times in pass coverage, including against record-setting wideout Mohamed Sanu, and he made textbook tackles. Dom Anene also helped to bracket against Sanu, and he added a sack as well. Though the aforementioned backers played well, freshman Dyshawn Davis stole the show. The New Jersey native was excited to face the state school, and he made his mark early and often. His alarming hit on Jawan Jamison on the second play of the game was a textbook blitz. He blitzed the run perfectly on several occasions, so quick that the RU backs had no shot at getting enough of him to slow him down. Davis finished with two sacks, three tackles for a loss and the forced fumble that led to the early touchdown.
The secondary also had a notable afternoon of work, and they did an excellent job limiting Sanu to his worst game of 2011 (statistically). He was targeted as much as he always is, but the bracket coverage and jamming by Phillip Thomas slowed him down in big-time spots. Keon Lyn did the best against him in one-on-one coverage despite having his hand in a cast, and Jeremi Wilkes deflected a key pass headed his way that appeared to be in his hands. Kevyn Scott again held his own, though he missed out on an interception chance on an easy third-quarter pass. He read and reacted, along with Thomas, better than any defensive back while in zone coverage. Thomas was the most active of the group, flying around the field against both the pass and the run. He made a few big hits in the "alley" of the running lane, but failed to wrap-up the back. The Miami native also got his hands on three would-be interceptions, one of which would have been returned for a touchdown. He did haul one in, his third of the season. Wilkes missed a pair of tackles and roughed the punter on third-and-19, but he played well down the stretch overall.
The return teams played well and made no mental mistakes, and the specialists all did their job. Obviously the field-goal team will undergo several changes after giving up two blocks in the loss. Coach Marrone reviewed the tape and he and the staff think they may have solved the problem of overcompensating on inside blocks.
"We'll switch them," Marrone said, referring to the interior lineman. "We'll interlock our tight end, so he has one movement instead of two."