Let's try something different, folks. My timing with the segment has been off of the mark considering there hasn't been a mostly-positive segment since it started after the Louisville game. So I will do a similar effort via traditional print.
As always, the game plan is to run down the positives and negatives from the 37-17 loss to South Florida. And for the third straight week, the bad easily outweighs the good.
Believe it or not, there were some good things to look at from the Friday night fiasco. To me, it starts with Ryan Nassib. He led Syracuse into the fire more times than not, and the eventual stalling of drives was not his fault on several occasions. Nassib was sharp and quick in his decision-making, and he had to against yet another athletic front-seven that dominated the Orange offensive line. He threw better on the run than he has perhaps all season, and his scramble ability actually notched a few first downs. Nassib's toughness was again on display, even after getting hit more than usual. The drops by the pass-catchers were self-explanatory, so his numbers should have been better than the solid 297 yards and two touchdowns that he ended up with. Nassib haters/critics really have no argument in this one.
Another good aspect in the tough loss was the secondary. Outside of a huge breakdown that should have ended as a USF score (before Rishard Anderson forced a fumble), the unit was solid. It was tested by B.J. Daniels both as a runner and as a passer. He got to the third level with ease, and the defensive backs tackled well. Against the pass, the DBs kept everything in front of them – something plenty of defenses have been unable to accomplish against the Bulls this season.
I thought Jerome Smith played well in his limited action. For the first time all season, Antwon Bailey had a traditional change-of-pace back since Prince-Tyson Gulley was lost for the season. Smith ran hard, as usual, though the running game had to be abandoned because of the second-half deficit.
The final positive, though it should come with an asterisk, was Alec Lemon. Though he had an early drop that would have been a first down and a HUGE fourth-down blunder in the end zone, the crafty wideout had another big day. I don't believe in numbers as much as most people do, but 19 catches and over 300 combined yards to go along with three scores over just two games is worth noting. Lemon has always been a consistent route runner, but he is utilizing the defender for leverage in his breaks and finishing catches with powerful runs. The difference has resulted in big-time yardage, something the SU receiving corps has not made a habit of in 2011.
For the third straight week, the offensive line was exposed. Louisville, UConn, and South Florida's collective athleticism made the usually- good Orange O-line look very slow and out of place. Michael Hay continues to disappoint, with penalties and the lack of an ability to neutralize speed rushers. The interior line, also for the third straight week, could not open enough holes for Bailey and company. The result is predictable play-calling and one-dimensional threats that the opposing defenses have keyed on. Bailey, after notching four straight 100-yard efforts, has failed to do so in each of the last three games.
The second-biggest negative has to be the receiving group. At first glance, Lemon, Dorian Graham, Jarrod West, David Stevens, Nick Provo and Beckett Wales all dropped at least one pass. Graham dropped three, including one which would have resulted in a touchdown. Lemon dropped another two possible scores while West, Provo, Wales and Stevens all suffered a blunder on what could have been fairly easy first downs. After the game, all the involved players who spoke to the media were regretful, but admitted that practice has translated to the game. Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. You practice how you play, and apparently the pass-catchers have not been very consistent from Monday to Friday.
Another tough group to watch was the edge defenders. For the third straight week, contain was lost frequently on the way to the opposing offense dictating the tempo of the game. Daniels found the edge at will, eluded the rush, and absolutely gashed SU on the read-option just as Scott McCummings did for Connecticut last week. Assignment football has not been the strength of the Orange defense all season long, the unit has been its best in basic sets where the athletes can rely on instinct. Hopefully with the bye week, Scott Shafer and company could get back to that a bit though the read-option will be in play once again with Cincinnati coming to town.
Finally, an under-the-radar negative is injuries and/or banged-up athletes. Van Chew left the game early and kicker Ross Krautman was not healthy enough to try a kickoff other than an onside kick. Though not an injury one would see on an injury report, Bailey may be wearing down. With his small frame, most feared that the increased workload would eventually slow down the shifty back. We don't know for sure, and the O-line isn't helping the cause much, but Bailey looks like a run-of-the-mill tailback of late. Smith and Adonis Ameen-Moore, who did not get a single tote on Friday, should be more involved going forward.