Half-Full or Half-Empty?

I was at the Syracuse-Virginia game as a fan last wek with my buddies, and they, like most people in Central New York, prefer to deal in absolutes. A woman can't be all right looking. She is either beautiful, or you wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole. Nor can beer be decent, it's either your favorite pilsner, or the very smell of it makes you run for the hills.

I was at the Syracuse game as a fan week with my buddies, and they, like most people in Central New York, prefer to deal in absolutes. A woman can't be all right looking. She is either beautiful, or you wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole. Nor can beer be decent, it's either your favorite pilsner, or the very smell of it makes you run for the hills. I have to give it to my pals though, at least they're consistent. As we watched the Orange lose on a last second field goal to Virginia, you would have thought Syracuse had just lost by 50. Their view of the Orange went from the team being able to play with anybody in college football, to the equivalent of a word that rhymes with hit, mitt, and fit (I'm sure you can figure it out) in less than five minutes.

 

This isn't how the real world works guys. There are ok looking women. There are so-so beers, and Syracuse football 2005 has its upside and downside. So in the spirit of my half full/half empty mood, I'm making a list. Here are five reasons to be excited about the Orange, as well as five reasons to be scared enough to add "Mc" to the beginning of your last name and become a Notre Dame fan:

           

1) The Coaching Staff

 

The Good:

                        One simple word: emotion. This year's team has it, and it's because of Greg Robinson. Can you see him embracing a player with tears in his eyes after Syracuse wins a big game? I can. He has that Dick Vermeil feel about him. Robinson's fired up over there on the sidelines too. I saw him pumping up the offense and defense at least five or six times Saturday. And more importantly, his team buys into it. It means nothing if you can't get your team buying what you're selling, and I think Robinson has done that. When a team plays with emotion and believes in its coach two great things happen: 1) The players can play way above their heads because they are fired up, giving them a chance in games they normally would get killed at, and more importantly 2) The team doesn't have letdown games where it takes a step backwards. I see some truth to Robinson's coach speak about the team getting better each week. That constant improvement from emotion is something the Pasqualoni staff lacked, which is why Syracuse, even when the team was good back in the late 90's, always lost games it shouldn't have. The Orangemen (still attached to the name) always had let down games because their coach didn't get them fired up enough for every game, especially the ones they were supposed to win.

            The Bad:

                        Greg Robinson's game management. At the end of the Virginia game with the Cavaliers running out the clock for a field goal, Robinson waited about 20 seconds to call a timeout after a running play. And, he did it twice! I'm not saying it would have made a difference necessarily, but you have to give your team every chance possible. Who knows, 30 seconds could have been the difference. Offensive Coordinator Brian Pariani scares me a little as well. His play calling was predictable and tentative towards the end of the game. With third and a long five yards to go, Syracuse was down by three and in field goal range, Pariani called a run. Damien Rhodes got stopped and the Orange kicked a field goal. You've got to throw that ball there. I can't think of any reason why you wouldn't. Even if Patterson gets sacked, the team was still well within field goal range. Although I like the new coaches, I keep forgetting they are as new to their positions as the players are.

            The Ugly:

                        I really don't have anything to say here, but you can't write the good and the bad without including the ugly. It just doesn't feel right. There isn't anything ugly about Greg Robinson either; the guy has a Bill Clinton like charm. OK. Maybe this isn't the venue to be talking about Coach Robinson's looks. Umm…moving on…

 

2) The Defense

                       

            The Good:

                        The improvement has been amazing. Syracuse has actually become a good defensive team. I didn't think that was possible in one year. The secondary, as I've said before, looks great. The Orange did have some trouble with Virginia QB Marcus Hagans running around, which eventually cost them the game, but Hagans will do that to most teams. This unit is much better off then it was a year ago.

            The Bad:        

                        As good as the defense has been, Syracuse has been bailed out by the poor play of opposing offenses. It happened again against Virginia. The game easily could have been out of hand by halftime, but Hagans threw three terrible interceptions before the break. One of those was picked off in the end zone by Ryan LaCasse, and the other two were both at midfield. If those balls aren't picked, Virginia would have led by at least ten more points than it did. Now, I know what you're saying, the defense caused those turnovers. And, you're right, it did. It's a talent. Dwight Freeney was great at it too. But, it's not something you can rely on to keep you in games. .  

            The Ugly:

                        Graduation. Syracuse loses the heart of their defense after this year. Anthony Smith, Steve Gregory, Kellen Pruitt, James Wyche, and Ryan LaCasse are all gone. Besides Tanard Jackson and Kelvin Smith, that's basically all of Syracuse's studs on defense. So next year may be when we see how good of a defensive coach Greg Robinson really is.

 

3) The Offense

           

            The Good:

                        After a horrendous first half, Syracuse almost got into a rhythm out there. Perry has finally figured out he can throw to other people besides the defense, like his tight ends. What a game by Joe Kowalewski. He was all over the place. I also like Pariani's adjustment in the second half of calling play action passes. He used the Cavaliers overemphasis on the running game against them (very Bruce Lee of him). When the linebackers committed to the run, Syracuse's tight ends were left open. After Patterson ran play action a few times and was successful, the defense backed off a little bit. Then Syracuse started running the ball again and having success. The offense improved vastly this week, putting up 24 points against a team that was much better than the first two opponents. If the Orange hosted West Virginia today instead of two and a half weeks ago, there is no doubt in my mind Syracuse would win the game.

 

            The Bad:

                        The first half. It was pretty ugly. The offensive line couldn't get any kind of a push except for the first drive. That's a problem for Damien especially, because he can't seem to run if he doesn't have a hole. It's what's limiting him from being a feature back. But great running backs have the talent of getting at least a couple yards every time. If he wants to be the man this year he needs to be able to put his head down and get three yards no matter what the blocking is like, and, make no mistake about it, it was bad. Even when Syracuse started having success in the second half, the offensive line still looked weak. The unit scares me, especially with tackle Kurt Falke still out.

            The Ugly:

That fat guy in the front row with his shirt off! Third seat on the left. I know you saw him too. I was almost four deep in the beer department by the start of the third quarter and I still couldn't bear to look at him. Also, the receiving corps. I don't know if it's Perry or them, but something has to get worked out. Kowalewski can't lead Syracuse in receiving for the year.

 

4) The Schedule

 

            The Good:

                        I can't really lie; this was difficult to find an upside to. The best thing about the schedule already passed Syracuse by: starting out with three games at home. And, Syracuse didn't capitalize on it. I guess the only upside now is the Orange's out of conference road games are going to better prepare them for the Big East schedule. If the team can toughen up against the likes of Florida State, maybe Connecticut on the road won't be as hard. It's like when I play basketball. If I play against a real good player first, I think the next decent guy I play with stinks. Better competition raises your confidence.

            The Bad:

                        Do I really have to go into this? Don't we all know already? Syracuse's road schedule is one of the toughest in the country. The Orange plays three legitimate top ten teams in Florida State, Notre Dame, and Louisville. That's going to be rough, and I can't see Syracuse coming close in any of those games. If the Orange was at the dome, maybe, but not on the road. It's too tough to do. So you can pretty much chalk up those three as losses unless something amazing happens. I hope I'm wrong of course, but if I'm not Syracuse already has two defeats. Add three to that, and it's five. The Orange is going to have to win every other game to make a bowl. That's tough.

            The Ugly:

The last two games of the season. Syracuse goes to Notre Dame, and then to Louisville to finish it out. (Gulp). That could be a train wreck.

 

5) The Fans

 

            The Good:

                        I got to be one! It was my first opportunity to sit in the stands in almost two seasons. And, I forgot how much I loved it. A couple things are great about the fan experience. You get to drink beer while watching a football game, which is something absolutely essential to the experience. Plus, you see all the little things that you and your buddies talk about the whole rest of the game. For example, we saw some guy ask for change from the girl collecting money for charity. It provided comedy well into the third quarter. Those are nuggets you just don't get in the press box.

            The Bad:

                        Booing. You can't boo your team at home no matter how bad it's playing. You just can't do it. I don't know how many times I have to say this, but it really doesn't help anything and Syracuse deserves better than to be booed at home. I also observed something interesting about Carrier Dome fans. The further up you go in the Dome, the more ridiculous the complaining and comments are. The place is like the Coliseum back in Roman times. I started out in the student section where everyone was cheering no matter what happened, just trying to encourage the team. Yeah, there was that one drunken loser who yelled at the top of his lungs to contain Hagans, but for the most part it was all love down on the first level. Then I went up to the third deck for the second half. High comedy. Even when Syracuse did something well, these guys were complaining about it. On the touchdown pass to Kowalewski, some guy said "flash in the pan, they still suck", and he had a Syracuse shirt on! The other comments were mostly sports clichés disguised as deep analytical thoughts about the game. One guy said "It's so easy, they just have to start running the ball to open up the passing game." So many John Maddens in the upper deck.

            The Ugly:

                        Syracuse University blatantly lying about the attendance. There is no way there was over 40,000 people at the dome Saturday, not unless 10,000 were getting food at the same time. At the most, there were 35,000 people there.

 

                        One more note to add. I didn't know exactly where to put this. Because the game was at noon Saturday, all the tailgating started at around nine in the morning. There was one point shortly after nine where I had a beer in my right hand, a coffee in my left hand, and a bagel with cream cheese on my wrist. I can't decide if that's the saddest, or the greatest thing I've ever done. I'll let you be the judge. Until next time…

                                                           

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