Despite allowing the opponent to grab the upper-hand early for the third-straight game, Syracuse found a way to win Saturday against a physical Stony Brook team. The Seawolves had a chip on their shoulder because of their FCS label, but they gave the Orange all it could handle in the first half. The second half was all SU, even though a pair of goal-line stands kept Stony Brook in it until the end.
All the dust has settled from the Orange's first win of 2012, so let's re-visit the game tape for an in-depth look at what went right, what went wrong, and everything in between.
The Syracuse offense has looked good all season long in terms of moving the ball down the field, and it held true once more on Saturday. Ryan Nassib steadied the ship for most of the game, doing everything he has been asked to do in the new up-tempo offense. He did come out a bit flat initially, showing some impatience towards his receiving targets. However, the veteran settled down and began showcasing that rifle arm SU fans have come to finally appreciate on the way to another 300-yard day. He got better as the game went along, again, but missed out on one end zone opportunity when Doug Marrone elected to go for it on 4th-and-goal. Nassib was behind his target on consecutive plays.
As a decision-maker, though, Nassib had his best effort of the season. There weren't errant throws to linebackers or the occasional toss into double-coverage, and he shared the wealth by getting the ball to eight different targets. Everything was on time and the product of the right read. He even made a mark as a runner in the second half, using the read-option to his advantage after the running backs had early success with the new staple in the up-tempo spread look.
The backfield also had some juice to it on Saturday. Jerome Smith was solid, Prince-Tyson Gulley was again explosive and Ashton Broyld had a semi-coming out party. Smith got the bulk of the load once more, with 18 totes, again showing solid north-south running skills fit with ideal finishes using his 215-pound frame. His running at the second-level was just as impressive, especially when he recognized first down markers and made it a point to reach those marks. Smith dazzled the Carrier Dome with a leap in one such run, clearing one of his teammates in the process. Gulley was again the shiftiest one, able to break the most tackles, and the fastest. He showed his speed early on a 61-yard catch-and-run from Nassib on the way to a touchdown, but running the ball was a bit tougher for him Saturday. Still, he was likely ahead of both Smith and Broyld in the ‘crunch-time' pecking order until he fumbled just before halftime. Broyld gained the most out of the day, despite a slow start. He had success early with his touches, due to the blocking in front of him. He again didn't use his big frame to run through tackles until he saw more daylight. Broyld was stopped by the first defender who came in contact with him on his first trio of touches, but he was more relaxed once he got into a rhythm, and his size combined with his cutting ability to display a peek at his potential. The freshman made his signature play on a 22-yard second quarter touchdown scamper in which he made an inside-then-outside cut to freeze a linebacker before using his speed to get to pay dirt.
The wide receiver position looked to take another step forward against the Seawolves as well. Marcus Sales landed on the Biletnikoff Watch List Tuesday morning after logging his third-straight 100-yard, one-touchdown game to open the season. He only dropped one pass, and showed the best run-after-catch ability that he has since the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl. The chemistry between Nassib and Sales is only growing, and he will become an even better weapon once Alec Lemon rounds into form. The senior looked a bit behind the curve once again, suffering a drop to go along with few targets and the inability to separate like he did in 2011. Jarrod West, on the other hand, continues to make plays on the offense. He was solid as a pass-catcher again, and continues to impress with run-after-catch skills as good as any wideout on the team's early this season. West even made an impact as a blocker, helping to spring Gulley on SU's first score although he also missed the block that led to Gulley's fumble later in the game. West was able to grab his first touchdown of 2012 on what is becoming a trademark slant route when the offense is within striking distance. With Nassib's arm strength and accuracy, it's no surprise that it's worked on scoring plays in each of the first three games.
The tight end group was more of a blocking unit in this one, though Beckett Wales was solid when given the chance to gain some yards. He still has some work to do as a blocker, especially near the goal line – where the Orange was out-played throughout Saturday.
It was a tale of two sides of the line once again on Saturday, as the left side of Sean Hickey and Zack Chibane was on top of their game while the right side of Lou Alexander, Ivan Foy and even some Andrew Phillips was shaky at best. Center Macky MacPherson continues to improve with his adjustments and consistency against defenders often bigger than him. Hickey and Chibane combined to spring Broyld on his touchdown run and allowed for Nassib to have just enough time to swing it out to Gulley for the first SU score. Each was solid more times than not, and Chibane may have had the best half of his career in the first two quarters. Foy was a bit better, but still subpar overall. He was repeatedly overpowered at the goal line, but was solid as a run blocker in space as well as down the field, where he continues to show the ability to pull and kick-out well. Phillips came into the game as a statement to Alexander, who had his worst game of the young season. Not only did he struggle with any block style other than a simple down-block, but he was flagged for a personal foul and had little chance at slowing average defenders against the pass.
While most Syracuse fans were happy to escape its own Dome with a win, the defense's second-half effort should be noted. The unit not only pitched a shutout, but it responded to the offense failing on multiple occasions with the chance to put the game away. It didn't start so well for the defense, though, as Miguel Maysonet and Marcus Coker combined for 200 yards and a score on the ground. Yes, the bulk was given up on a long run by Maysonet, but the run game was an issue to defend throughout the game.
The defensive line was first at fault for the gaudy holes the backs had to run through. Jay Bromley, Deon Goggins and Eric Crume had a tough combined effort early on. Goggins not only was reached on the 71-yard touchdown run, but he committed an early penalty as well. He regrouped, as most veterans do, in the second half with good penetration and technique. Bromley didn't make an impact most of the day and Crume was washed away along with him inside save one of the better plays of his young career when he not only defeated the block after a good push, but made an important stop on the ball carrier in the process. While each usual had his ups and downs; Zian Jones made an impact when given the chance. He created pressure as a hole-plugger and as a pass-rusher in limited playing time. Look for his reps to increase, though it may be the opposite for Micah Robinson on the outside. He lost the edge at times and committed a critical offsides penalty. Starting defensive ends Markus Pierce-Brewster and Brandon Sharpe performed well once again, making it hard for players like Robinson and Rob Welsh to see considerable time. Pierce-Brewster helped to seal the game as he pressured the quarterback causing a rushed throw to eventually get intercepted in the fourth quarter, and applied pressure plenty of times before it as well including on a momentum-snatching tackle for loss despite engaging a double-team block from Stony Brook. MPB did get washed down on one big Sea Wolf run, as did Sharpe. Sharpe was sealed by the fullback but he also met MPB at the quarterback a few times while showing the same discipline to go down the line to make a tackle that made his stand out against USC.
Behind the line, the speedy unit was a bit inconsistent this time around. Middle linebacker Siriki Diabate was the team's best blitzer against the pass, forcing the quarterback to rush throws more times than not while finishing with big hits. Against the run, however, he over pursued on one eventual first down, missed Maysonet on another and was unable to fill the hole on separate occasion. He looked like a nickel ‘backer on this day after a great start to his senior season. Dyshawn Davis was up-and-down, showing his usual solid blitzing skills, though he didn't elect to disguise them at all Saturday. He was kicked-out several times while setting the edge, but he also filled the hole better than expected. Marquis Spruill was the most stout of the group, meeting up-backs with consistent force as a middle linebacker should to allow other tacklers to finish the play.
The secondary had its best day of the season on Saturday, as it should have. Stony Brook came in as a run-heavy team, and the unit made sure it remained that way in the win. The one big mistake was an early shot against Ri'Shard Anderson, who has been vulnerable against high-arching passes all season long. It worked again, and play-action didn't help him out as Shamarko Thomas also bit on the game's opening touchdown. Anderson was also beat later in the game, but an off-target throw conveyed the mistake. The junior regrouped later on for a nice pass-breakup, but quarterbacks will continue to try and pick on him going forward. Thomas was a solid tackler again, even coming up to fill holes the way the linebackers sometimes couldn't. He also contributed a PBU, which was a common theme. Fellow safety Jeremi Wilkes notched an interception on a ball thrown directly at him, but was subpar otherwise. He failed to wrap-up on Maysonet's long touchdown run and was defeated in the underneath zone when Stony Brook had success in their early passing game. On the corner, Keon Lyn proved why he is the best pure cover-guy on the team with consistent stalking of the opposing WRs. He had multiple pass break-ups, stayed disciplined against a stop-and-go route in man coverage and even came up and wrapped-up a receiver for just a short gain on the only catch he allowed in the contest. He did, like Wilkes, become a part of Maysonet's highlight reel on his score, as he was the player he hurled over on the way to the end zone. Brandon Reddish rebounded from a tough day against the Trojan wideouts last week with a solid effort. He filled the hole as good as any cornerback can hope to on the way to making sure tackles, and he came up with his first interception to help seal the game.
Ross Krautman made the special teams unit look like it had a rougher outing than it did. He missed a pair of field goals that could have allowed SU to pull away much sooner than it did, which is uncharacteristic of the junior thus far in his career. The kicking units were much improved from top to bottom, especially in coverage. Wayne Morgan is consistently the first player down to cover Ryan Norton's kicks and he made a pair of big tackles in the process for the second straight game. On the flip side, the return units are still developing. Steve Rene showed more lateral agility in his first kick return to replace the injured Jeremiah Kobena (upper-body), but it was all downhill for him from there. He caught the next kickoff while walking out of bounds to pin his own team inside the 10 yard-line and he also fielded a punt in which he was immediately hit because of his lack of awareness. Rene, who was also flagged for a late hit, looked to redeem himself on coverage, but appeared to have injured his shoulder while securing an open-field tackle.
Bottom-line, Syracuse got its first win of the season by any means necessary. The offense moved the ball well all game, but couldn't punch it in when it needed to blow the game open. The defense was on the wrong side of big plays in the first half before pitching a shutout in the second, when the team needed it most. The special teams still need more guidance from Marrone and company, but the mistakes are looking more correctable as time goes on. This team is still heading in the right direction, but a complete three-phase effort needs to be put together on Saturday night against Minnesota so each unit can have the proper confidence heading into Big East play.