‘Cuse looks to get first Big East win
I'm sure you've heard the old story: the one about the tortoise and the hare. Well, in this case, the hare is Greg Robinson's shall-we-say ‘hare-brained' schemes (Antwon Bailey running the ball in the most critical moment of the game, anyone?) The tortoise is the improvement evidenced by Mitch Browning's offense and the other aspects of football that are keeping the Orange in some close football games (whether it be the other team forgetting to wake up or Curtis Brinkley running like a bulldozer through anything that crosses his path). The question for ‘Cuse fans is: will the tortoise ever catch the hare?
Well, the hare is still cruising along at near light speed, as Greg Robinson proved time and time again in last week's West Virginia game that he doesn't seem to have a clue what's going on between the hash marks for at least, roughly fifty percent of the game. But yet, Syracuse just keeps pushing on, like the little train that could. Even if it's only for one Big East win or for a 3-9 season (rather optimistic at this point), the Orange have actually shown what Daryl Gross would call ‘tangible improvement.' It hasn't translated into wins, however, and it likely came far too late to save G-Rob's job (not that it was a direct impact of anything Robinson did anyways). So this week, G-Rob's troops will look to slay the dragon (or the Bull in this case) that is South Florida.
So why does SU have a chance in this game? One, they've strung together their best performances of the season, and though they've still left much to be desired in terms of results, the games have slowly been getting longer and longer. Yes, they're all sixty minutes, but in terms of how long the ‘Cuse have been in each game, progress has been evident. In the Northwestern game, SU was toast after about 35 minutes, while in the last two week's games against Pitt and West Virginia; it was about fifty and 55 minutes respectively.
Second reason why this could be closer than people think is merely two simple words: Curtis Brinkley. The senior has been singlehandedly carrying his team lately and with more talent around him could easily be one of the conference's premier backs. Cameron Dantley is slowly improving, though he still has plenty more room. Coupled with a potent rushing attack and a sudden plethora of young receiving options (did I just say plethora when discussing SU's offense?), this offensive unit is actually not that bad. Some higher power, whether it be Browning, G-Rob, Dr. Gross, Chancellor Cantor or maybe God, has wisely decided to open the playbook up more and more as each week progresses.
While the offense is improving, the defense is taking baby steps at most and that's what we hired the head man G-Rob for. Robinson was known as a defensive guru before stepping into this head coaching position, but SU's lackluster defensive play so far would indicate otherwise. In order to win this weekend, SU's defense will need to play like they did against WVU and improve even more off that. The pursuit was clearly evident and while tackling still was not top-notch, there was improvement. USF will stretch SU's limited defensive capabilities to the max, but if they were able to handle the ‘Cadillac' of spread offenses last week in Morgantown, who's to say they can't surprise us again?
Some quick keys to the game for the ‘Cuse include scoring first, early and often. SU will also need to get some long throws from Dantley to stretch out USF. Mike Holmes could be a huge factor in the game, both on special teams and if he can step up and have a shutdown game at the CB position. SU must win time of possession and the turnover battle to have a chance. The ‘Cuse will be well-served to win the battles in the first and final three minutes of each half. Though these four segments tally up to only one-fifth of the entire game, they are where most games are won and lost. Another key will be if SU's under-performing defensive line can get pressure on Grothe. He proved in the Pitt game that he doesn't quite operate the same under duress as he does with plenty of time in the pocket.
And on the actual game prediction, SU has actually been getting off to good starts lately and I think the trend continues in Tampa. By the time the second stanza rolls around though, Matt Grothe's dual threat and USF's superior athletes will have cashed in on some foolish SU mistake. Expect SU to commit some stupid holding penalties and other silly shenanigans to thwart promising drives. This will likely leave them in the familiar position of being down, but not out at halftime. In the second half, USF will pull away with its all-around superior talent. If the winds of fortune do blow heavily in SU's favor, it should be duly noted that there are vast disparities in the kicking games of these two teams and I'll give Mr. Shadle the advantage any day of the week. SU will likely not need Shadle's services much in the second half though, as I fully expect USF's opportunistic defense to buckle down this week and get a big play to seal the coffin lid on Syracuse. The pick: USF 31, Syracuse 17.
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