Syracuse junior offensive tackle Sean Hickey came into this season yet to start a game due to injury. Irony opened up an opportunity on the offensive line when senior left tackle Justin Pugh was sidelined with a shoulder injury. As Hickey practiced throughout Fall camp at that left tackle position, he looked less and less like a newcomer and more like a returning starter.
But nothing can completely simulate a game against an opponent, so Hickey got his chance to show whether or not his progressive play in practice would translate into a real game when the Orange faced the Wildcats of Northwestern in week one of the 2012 season.
How did Hickey believe he performed?
"I felt, for my first start, and given the situation that happened last year coming off the injury,…I felt comfortable out there and I just tried to play the best I possibly could."
The offensive line, with Hickey as a blocker, allowed only one sack in four quarters.
"I felt pass protection, for the most part, we gave him (Nassib) time," Hickey stated.
"I remember there was one play in the second quarter where I set too short on a defensive end and he (Nassib) almost got hit, but my mind just shrugged that off and kept playing the way I know how to play," Hickey added.
"And there were a few other times where maybe there might have been a little miscommunication here, a little miscommunication there, but for the most part, I felt he (Nassib) was able to put up some big numbers."
Nassib completed 44 passes on 66 attempts, gaining 482 yards through the air.
But the protection of Nassib, according to Hickey, "…wasn't enough. You look in the first quarter. We had too opportunities to punch it in the endzone and we didn't. We only got six points out of it. We should've gotten 14 points out of it. If we'd [done] that, probably the outcome of the game is different."
On the first two drives, Syracuse was inside the redzone, failing to record a touchdown from within 20 yards on either occasion. The offense continued to have trouble moving the ball before halftime.
"…In the second quarter...we had like…four straight three-and-outs, and that's unacceptable," Hickey remarked. "And that's when they got the jump on the lead on us, and we needed to keep up and we didn't."
Penalties also stalled the offense at times. On the opposite side of the line from Hickey, right tackle Lou Alexander was flagged for two false start penalties on the same offensive drive.
"We fought hard back, but sometimes you dig yourself in a big hole and we weren't able to climb out of it," said Hickey.
Though the Orange did not overcome their deficit for good when the clock expired on their first match of the season, Hickey saw positives in the versatility of the offensive line and talent at running back to go with good protection on Nassib.
When starting center Macky MacPherson came out of the game, the team did not seem flustered at all.
"We changed up how we practiced this year," Hickey remarked. "Previous years, just the ones would get reps with the ones. Just the twos get reps with the twos. This year…we would rotate guys in in practice to work with the first team like Rob Trudo, Andy Phillips. When they're out there, we feel comfortable with them because we practiced with them, so that wasn't a big issue like when Trudo went in I was like, ‘Alright, we're fine'. Macky's a fantastic player, but Trudo's very good too."
As far as the talent at running back, Hickey had something to say about juniors Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith. "They're very, very tough players, like mentally. Very tough players," expressed Hickey. "And if there's a run that doesn't go their way, they're just gonna shake it right off and they found a few cutback lanes and they found some holes frontside of run plays. They're very effective for us, so I was very proud of how they ran."
Gulley carried the ball seven times for 50 yards, an average of 7.1 yards per carry, crossing into the endzone on a strong run through the middle early on in the second quarter. Along with his carries, Gulley caught seven passes for 46 yards.
Smith added 34 yards on 10 rushes to two receptions for 39 yards, including a catch and run for 34 yards off of one passing play that gave Syracuse a new set of downs and helped lead to an eventual field goal by junior kicker Ross Krautman.
Hickey will have an opportunity to improve with his teammates as well as continue their areas of success when the Orange line up opposite the Trojans of USC on Saturday, September 8th, at 3:30pm Eastern in New York's College Classic at MetLife Stadium.