The Syracuse Orange football program is coming off of their first road win of the season and first road victory in the Big East Conference since they defeated Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey, back in November of 2010.
Syracuse achieved the win by scoring 34 points in the second half of the game, after amounting a mere field goal in the first half last week versus South Florida.
The Orange offense has turned on as of late, while the defense had their first struggling performance in the Big East this season, after a respectable showing against Syracuse's first three conference opponents.
Both sides will look get in sync as the team heads back to the road to Ohio for their match with the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday, November 3rd, at Noon Eastern.
History under head coach Butch Jones:
Jones became the Bearcats' head coach in late 2009 and had his first season leading the team in 2010. Cincinnati ended that season at 4-8, winning a mere two games in seven tries within the Big East Conference.
The following season, Jones aided the Bearcats to more than double their win total in the regular season from four to nine and turn a 2-5 record in the Big East in 2010 to 5-2 in 2011. Cincinnati advanced to the postseason, playing in and winning the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Vanderbilt.
So far this season, the Bearcats started out strong at 5-0, but have since lost two games straight. They are coming off of an overtime loss to Louisville, which resulted in a .500 record in the Big East at 1-1, going into this match.
Jones and Marrone have each led their respective teams to a win in their yearly head-to-head match-ups, with Syracuse achieving the first and Cincinnati attaining the latest victory.
Offensively for Cincinnati:
At the helm. In five of seven games, Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux has thrown for more than 200 yards, with the Bearcats winning all but one of those matches.
He has performed well in tight game situations. Legaux took every snap and either attempted a pass or ran for a quarterback keeper in Cincinnati's final drive against Virginia Tech. That drive resulted in a 39-yard passing play that ended in the touchdown that separated the Bearcats from the Hokies for a comeback victory.
Against Louisville, Legaux took good field position on the kickoff by teammate Ralph Abernathy and led another late-game drive with two completed passes, the second for the touchdown that sent the match into overtime. The Bearcats eventually lost in the extra period, but they achieved extra time because of Legaux's play.
The Orange defense will have to remain strong throughout the entire game with Legaux being a late threat.
Also working for Legaux are his legs. Legaux has recorded a rushing touchdown in each of his last four games. Along with crossing the threshold, Legaux has carried the ball more than 10 yards on one rushing attempt in five of Cincinnati's seven games.
Last week, B.J. Daniels of South Florida was allowed 134 yards on the ground by the Syracuse defense. Even more daunting is that Daniels achieved the 134 yards on a mere 12 carries, meaning that the Orange gave up a little more than 11 yards per carry to Daniels. Allowing Daniels to run opened up the game for the Bulls' rushing attack.
Syracuse will have to improve in an area they have struggled in dating back farther than the beginning of this season, which is in the art of stopping a double threat quarterback. The Orange defense allowed 42 points to Northwestern, led by Kain Colter and 36 to South Florida, led by Daniels. Though Syracuse won the latter game, the offense had to do so in the final seconds of the match.
The defensive line as the literal first line of defense has to get better at reading Legaux than they have done with Daniels. Despite losing to Northwestern, the defense was able to sack Colter five times. The line allowed failed to lock on Daniels and were left chasing him rather than holding him up more often than not.
Once the line broke down against Daniels, the linebackers and secondary were little help, reaching out for Daniels only to come up empty.
Without an improvement versus running quarterbacks, the defense will continue to force the offense to have to outscore opponents which has only worked once this season.
On the receiving end. Legaux spreads the ball out. He has six different players who have received 15 or more passes from him this season, with at least one that has led to a touchdown. Four of those players have caught multiple touchdowns from Legaux, with the wide receiver, tight end, and running back positions all getting involved.
Syracuse's secondary has gotten better against the pass, with cornerback Keon Lyn stepping up to prevent opportunities against South Florida that could have silenced any hope of a comeback by the Orange.
The better Lyn does, the better Syracuse's pass defense is. Cornerbacks Ri'Shard Anderson and Brandon Reddish need to step up in their coverage, however, because a smart quarterback will test them when Lyn begins to close in on his prey consistently.
With six different players involved in a passing play of more than 30 yards, three of those passes for touchdowns, and two more than 70 yards, the Orange secondary has to take notes of when Lyn stays locked onto his receiver because Anderson and Reddish have been known to get beat over top.
In the backfield. Besides Legaux, six other players have entered the end zone on the ground for the Bearcats. Their primary back is George Winn, who has carried the ball 123 times for 732 yards, averaging six yards per carry. Winn has not achieved anything less than 75 rushing yards in each of Cincinnati's seven games, surpassing 100 yards three times.
Where Winn has struggled is in consistently finding the end zone. He has four touchdowns so far this season, but has attained them among two games, failing to cross the threshold in five of the Bearcats' seven matches.
Behind Winn is Ralph Abernathy, who has reached the end zone three times in Cincinnati's last three games. Abernathy helps form the trifecta of Legaux, Winn, and himself as Bearcats who average six yards per carry.
After having a difficult time with a running quarterback in an overall multi-faceted backfield, the Orange defense will have to learn quickly how to slow the run once again. Syracuse plays best when the opposing offense has one dominant rusher and a pass-dominant quarterback. Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and UConn all exhibited this type of offense and each were held below 100 rushing yards.
Players like free safety Jeremi Wilkes and defensive tackle Deon Goggins have stepped up against the run and will be needed in this game to lead the defense. Wilkes has been quick to opposing rushers throughout the season, while Goggins slowed an otherwise swift-moving, ground gaining running attack most recently versus the Bulls. Their leadership is vital because they have learned how to maneuver the difficult test of the double-threat quarterback and many-faced backfield.
Defensively for Cincinnati:
On the frontline. The Bearcats best performers on the defensive line through seven games have been Dan Giordano and John Williams. Giordano has 3.5 tackles for a loss, including 2.5 sacks. He has hit the opposing quarterback eight times through seven games. Giordano also comes into the match against Syracuse with one forced fumble.
Williams equals Giordano with 3.5 tackles for a loss with 2.5 sacks. He also has gotten involved in the passing game, breaking up a pass, and has recovered a fumble.
However, Cincinnati will be without key defensive lineman Walter Stewart, who has what is being called an "upper body" injury. Stewart leads the team with seven tackles for a loss, including five sacks.
Without the best pass rusher on the team, the Bearcats will need players like Giordano and Williams to do a little bit more.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib is protected better this season than he has ever been in his career at the helm of the Orange. In half of the team's games, Syracuse's offensive line has allowed one sack or less.
Though the offensive line did have some issues versus Pittsburgh and Rutgers, where five total sacks were allowed, they have bounced back to give up one sack amongst the last two games combined.
Even when the Orange failed to attain points in the first half of last week's game, the offensive line was locking up defenders and opening up holes for the run.
For Cincinnati, another area where the defensive line needs to improve is against the run. Cincinnati has allowed over 100 yards to five of their seven opponents. With or without Stewart, they have not been able to contain the run more often than not, allowing backs to spill into the middle of the field and beyond.
Syracuse's backfield has been led all season by Jerome Smith, who has proven more than capable of moving the ball, even when the offense has had tough times. Smith can get between the tackles and take the hits while navigating through and out of harm's way. His resiliency does not cease, even when the Orange amounted a mere three points in the first half last week versus South Florida, Smith continued to charge forward.
With a line that has found trouble locking up opposing backs early, Smith will be a threat, as he has been all season, to get through the first line of defense and into the open field.
In the middle. Linebackers Greg Blair and Maalik Bomar are the two top tacklers on the Bearcats. Between the two are over 120 tackles through the team's seven games. No one has more tackles for a loss on the team than Blair, who leads all with 4.5, including 1.5 sacks. Blair has also hit the opposing quarterback twice, affecting the passing game in that respect as well as breaking up three pass attempts and forcing turnovers with two interceptions. Bomar, too, has broken up a pass and gained an interception.
The Orange protection unit will need to watch the blitz and pick up players like Blair. The running back position, especially Syracuse's depth at running back, come into play when an extra blocker may be needed to help the line. The Orange need to overcome occurrences such as last week versus the Bulls where Nassib has to make a quick decision due to a defender who was not marked by anyone.
As far as the interceptions achieved by the linebacker position for Cincinnati amongst Blair and Bomar, Nassib must continue to watch his passes over the middle, the most dangerous place to throw because of potential tipped passes from lineman and the amount of traffic found there.
The secondary. Defensive backs Arryn Chenault, Camerron Cheatham, and Deven Drane provide a different look to Nassib than what he saw against South Florida because they have all achieved an interception. Both Chenault and Cheatham have two, while Drane have gotten one interception. With a secondary unit that has better reads on opposing quarterbacks and the hands to switch the possession in their favor, Nassib will be tested all over the field. These three players have also all broken up pass attempts, with Cheatham and Drane negating four attempted completions each.
As another connection among all three defensive backs is their ability to stay with the ball and their strength to gain possession when it is free. All three secondary members have one fumble recovery.
Syracuse's receivers will have to alleviate plays where the ball hits them in the hands but they do not come up with it because the ball could be tipped to a secondary with a knack for the ball.
Also, finding an open receiver will prove more difficult because this secondary has at least three smart and successful defensive backs. The depth at wide receiver for the Orange will be vital in this game. The more comfortable Nassib gets in the passing game, the more dangerous and potentially higher scoring Syracuse's offense becomes.
Keys to the game:
Cincinnati: Use Legaux as a rusher. Syracuse has not found a way to prevent a double-threat quarterback from leading their offense to a high-scoring outing as of yet. The more Legaux holds onto the ball, the better opportunity Cincinnati has to come away with a victory.
Slow the run. When the running game stalls, Nassib tends to force passes. With so many players capable of reading routes and having the hands to grab an interception, the less the Bearcats allow players like Smith to charge forward, the more likely they will be in getting Nassib to make a questionable decision.
Shut down routes. Nassib has led his offense to back-to-back high-scoring outings and is coming off of a comeback drive to victory. With him riding a high, Cincinnati will need to slow him early if they want to give themselves the best opportunity to come out above Syracuse. They can slow the offense by utilizing their strong secondary to shut down routes run by Marcus Sales, Alec Lemon, and Jarrod West.
But the Bearcats must be weary in the fact that even if these receivers are locked up, newcomer wide receiver Christopher Clark and tight end Beckett Wales have also been effective and will be open.
Syracuse: Keep your foot on the pedal. The Orange have scored 77 points within their last two games. With an offense scoring close to or right on 40 points per game, the defense can have some pressure lifted off of their shoulders.
Syracuse's defense has been asked through many of the games this season to hold teams under 20 points, and they have. But the more the offense can pile on, the more loose the defense can play, knowing that they do not have to do it all.
Do not lose focus. Just because the offense has turned on in the last two games does not mean that the defense can take a break.
The Orange defense has given their teammates on the offense so many opportunities to get ahead, get even, and win games this season. Sometimes the offense has made the most of those opportunities, while other times, they faltered. But the defense cannot stop providing the opportunities. The better the defense does, the less the offense has to do to win a game. Just as taking pressure off the defense is important, so, too, is it vital for the defense to do the same for the offense, which has been Jekyll and Hyde this season.
Bounce back. After not giving up 100 yards to any of the three rushing offenses they faced in conference coming into their game last week versus South Florida, they not only allowed 100 yards, but they gave up more than 100 yards to two separate Bulls' players. Even worse, the Orange allowed an 80-yard touchdown and 53-yard run, each coming from a different player.
Worst of all, Syracuse allowed the two 100-plus yard rushers to get over 100 yards before even playing the second half.
The Orange need to get back to the rush defense they exhibited in their first three Big East games so that they can take away half of the Cincinnati offense, like they did to the other teams they faced in the conference.
Syracuse continues to ride their wave, scoring first in the end zone. Cincinnati responds to tie the game. The Orange cross the Bearcats' threshold for another score. Cincinnati will connect on a field goal, sending the match into the half with Syracuse ahead 14-10.
In the second half, the Orange will give up two touchdowns and a field goal, but the offense will stay strong and outlast the Bearcats to a 31-27 victory.