There weren't too many positives to take from Syracuse's road loss to Louisville on Saturday. Not only did the Orange's offense fail to notch a first down until the second quarter, but the defense allowed a usually inconsistent Cardinals offense to score a season high in points.
SU quarterback Ryan Nassib takes a lot of slack from local fans and media. But I have always stood as one of his supporters. However, it's tougher to back him following Saturday's debacle. Not that it's entirely his fault, but he was under duress all game from the Louisville defense. It affected him so much, that he even rushed throws while facing minimal pressure. When he did get the ball out of his hands, the passes were often off target. There were three clear would-be touchdowns, including a pair of downfield attempts, that were way off. The inconsistency forced Nassib to settle for the usual short to intermediate routes and he did not complete a pass for more than 20 yards the entire game. On the flip side, he took plenty of punishment and came out for the next play ready to roll. Nobody should question his toughness.
The rest of the 'Cuse backfield had a difficult time getting going against the top-notch Cardinals defense, which is likely the best unit the Orange will face this season, including USC and West Virginia. Antwon Bailey made the most of his running opportunities, especially in the "Express Package." But as a blocker in pass-protection, much like the offensive line, he failed to slow blitzers and seemed overmatched. As a result of the large deficit and game situation, Jerome Smith and Adonis Ameen-Moore each registered only one carry after combining for 14 attempts in the previous game against the Mountaineers. Smith, to his credit, picked up what seemed like a key 4th-and-1 conversion. Fullback -- and unsung hero -- Adam Harris again held his own against upper-level competition.
On the outside, what seemed like the same story live was actually a pleasant surprise upon further review. Van Chew has been in and out of the offense seemingly each week, but he played a solid all-around game on Saturday. He ran crisp routes, made tough underneath catches and he even provided some blocks downfield. The key deep passes that Nassib missed were intended for Chew, who made great moves at the line of scrimmage to get behind the secondary. Dorian Graham continued to receive his touches and was again productive. On a reverse, he made the first defender miss like he always seems to do when he has the ball in his hands. Alec Lemon was again consistent, but he is unlikely to develop into a downfield threat. Jarrod West was able to record his first career touchdown in garbage time, and he too was missed on what appeared to be a sure score. On the downside, Nick Provo was exposed as a weak blocker on the edge. He allowed multiple tackles for a loss and wasn't much of a factor as a pass-catcher either. David Stevens again played his role well but even that means sporadic production.
The only group on the field which performed as inconsistent as Nassib was the offensive line. The usually sturdy unit looked unathletic and sluggish against the aggressive style that Louisville thrives on. Even Justin Pugh, who is having a stellar season, was at fault for backfield penetration. But most to blame was center Macky MacPherson, who was exposed several times against both lineman and even linebackers. As run blockers, the group fared well when attempting to reach the edge, as running in between the tackles appeared to be a daunting task.
Obviously the Syracuse defense got off to a slow start and allowed its opponent to register a season-high 27 points. But it wasn't all bad. The group did what it could to keep the offense in the game, though to no avail.
The defensive line did not have its best day. Chandler Jones, who returned from a knee injury last week, had problems holding contain. Cardinals QB Teddy Bridgewater consistently got out of the pocket and resulted in major plays more often than not. Even in the running game, the U of L backs had success in Jones' direction. He did register a sack for the second straight game, but later admitted he needed to be more consistent. Mikhail Marinovich was solid against the run as usual, especially near the goal line. The interior line was solid against the run as well, led by Deon Goggins. However, the group had a tough time affecting Bridgewater in the passing game.
Surprisingly, the linebacker corps played very well on Saturday. Marquis Spruill had a career-high nine tackles and they were all close to the line of scrimmage. He also forced his first career fumble in what proved to be the only turnover of the game for both teams. Dyshawn Davis also flew around throughout the afternoon, even making a key read-and-react play on a reverse that could have gone for a huge gain if he had not been present. Dan Vaughn was solid on the strong side, helping to neutralize Louisville runners outside of all-out blitz situations. Freshman Cameron Lynch provided speed on the edge when he got a chance although fellow backup Siriki Diabate was not as fortunate as a blitzer.
The defense received another inconsistent outing from the back end. Phillip Thomas seemed to be out of position in pass defense for the first time this season, but he did fare well as a run-supporter as usual. Shamarko Thomas was the biggest hitter on that side of the ball though his missed tackle on Victor Anderson's 61-yard dagger. After the game, Thomas told reporters that he has to make that play in order to give his team a chance to win. Jeremi Wilkes saw less playing time this week against a more run-oriented offense and he ended up in man coverage often. As for the cornerback play, Keon Lyn was the latest victim to allow the unit's long touchdown pass. Bridgewater threw to DeVante Parker's back shoulder to fit the ball in with Lyn in good position, but the sophomore lost a foot race to the end zone. Richard Anderson had a tough time as a tackler, but he fared better in coverage and nearly came down with an interception despite playing with a cast on his hand. Kevyn Scott continues to see less playing time and was not a major contributor on either side, but he should get more run this week against a pro-style offense in Connecticut.
There were a lot of holes in the Syracuse game plan against Louisville, but most of the issues can be corrected. What better stage for the Orange to bounce back than at the home of a Huskies squad which was responsible for the lowest scoring output in the Doug Marrone era.