Louisville Game Recap, Analysis & Notes
Now that we've had 48 hours to digest this divine miracle from God (yes, I'm referencing a SU win on the gridiron this weekend in case you missed it), let's take a look back at the game and what it means for the rest of the season.
So the game couldn't have got off to much of a worse start. SU won the opening coin toss and immediately deferred the option to the second half, a move I'm not overly fond of because it puts the onus right on the struggling defense to begin the game. But anyhow, I digress. The first seven minutes or so of the game couldn't have been worse. SU's defense looked porous as usual, but still came agonizingly close to getting a few third-down stops. They were unable to do so and Louisville hit pay dirt on a prolonged drive to begin the game. The Orange's anemic offense soon sputtered its way to a three-and-out and like me, I'm sure many of you were thinking "Here we go again. (Sigh)"
Through some inner resolve, the ‘Cuse were able to put it together and slowly but surely pull themselves right back in the game. The key, of course, is finding out what exactly it was that stimulated this team. When I look back at the game, I'd have to say it was a combination of unheralded, underperforming athletes stepping up in a big way for the ‘Cuse. Say what you want about coach Greg Robinson but the man has held his own in the recruiting war, trying to convince these 18-year olds to come play in the frozen tundra on the Dome's turf. And that's no easy task.
The first to step up was senior defensive tackle Nick Santiago. A local product from Utica, Santiago finished the night with two sacks and numerous other pressures on U of L's immobile signal caller Hunter Cantwell. The first of these sacks came on Louisville's second possession of the night and backed them up into a tough third down situation that the ‘Cuse defense was able to stop.
From there, it went to the old bread and butter, our resident rushing machine that also goes by the name Curtis ‘Boonah' Brinkley. He ran hard all night, but his gutsy determination on a few runs in the second drive also helped to swing the tide. His final effort on the drive, a 2-yard Superman-like dive into the end zone sent a clear message to ‘Cuse fans. This team wasn't going to quit on Greg Robinson…not tonight, not ever. A team that rarely overcomes deficits, SU took all of about six minutes after falling behind early to even up the score.
But Brinkley wasn't the only star on that drive. Apparently, Mr. Robinson has a few tricks up his sleeve. Switching the freakishly talented Da'Mon Merkerson (a former two-way, primarily defensive player) over to offense on the bye week, Greg quickly would reap the results of what he sowed. Merkerson made the first of his three first half catches late in this drive, as QB Cam Dantley put the ball right on the money and Da'Mon hauled it in. The chemistry shown between those two after getting reps together primarily over the bye week reminds me of the Manning-to-Harrison connection we used to see on Sundays. (Now, this comparison is clearly pre-mature and leans more on Merkerson's gifts as an athlete, but I figured I'd be a bit over-the-top with my comparisons to get your attention. Anyhow, for Merkerson, a sophomore, the sky's the limit.) He would go on to finish the game with three catches for 68 yards and a long touchdown from Dantley.
The team was finally able to go out and play a full sixty minute game, regardless of what obstacles were thrown at them. While this win could be a turning point for the ‘Cuse, we thought the same last year when SU knocked off a ranked ‘Ville team. One thing this Saturday did show us for sure though is that this SU football team won't be quitting on G-Rob before the season is over.
Some more thoughts & ramblings (The Good, The Bad and The Question Marks):
-Antwon Bailey makes those of us (yes, I was amongst them) who wondered where G-Rob's sanity went earlier this year pay in a big way tonight. The talented freshman busts through a hole on the right side and races for a long touchdown run. This just a couple of weeks after Robinson inserted Bailey into the game (ahead of choices like Doug Hogue and possibly even Delone Carter) for a tiring Curtis Brinkley. Example A of this: Eight minutes to go in the West Virginia game.
-The play of both of the lines. The offensive line is slowly maturing and creating gaps for the backs to run through. In particular, helmet stickers to center Jim McKenzie and defensive tackle Nick Santiago. With a player as talented as Curtis Brinkley, you don't need to open too many holes before he finds the end zone. Meanwhile, the defensive line did get a lot of pressure on Cantwell. This was easily the most they had pressured an opposing QB this year. Was this a sign of improvement or merely because Hunter Cantwell doesn't like to use his legs, to put it mildly?
-Underclassmen stepping up and making big plays. Two of them I discussed in my game log: Grant Mayes and Dorian Graham. I'm sure there are others I'm neglecting to mention. This is something you see out of a balanced basketball team more than football. It's nice to see the young guys beginning to make a name for themselves, but we need a few studs to carry the team. Hopefully, in a couple of years, these guys will be the studs.
-The kicking and punting games were exemplary. The return units, however, uhh…not so much.
-A relatively disciplined game by the ‘Cuse, minus Jared Kimmel's fifteen yard personal foul.
-The tackling continues to improve a tad, but still leaves much to be desired. It's nice to see Mitch Browning's offense making strides, but with G-Rob (a defensive-minded coach) at the helm, wouldn't you think defense would be a strong point on the team?
-Two L'ville players dropped long bombs over the middle. The problem: they were wide open. The secondary is gonna have to shore itself up fast for the Rutgers game.
-The season's still an unqualified disaster. Let's not make more out of this win than necessary. Sure, it's nice but even a broken clock is right twice a day. Consistency is the key thing we're looking for here and SU will have a winnable road game next weekend in Piscataway to back this up. Regardless of this past game's outcome, G-Rob's job status is still probably the hottest thing in America right now besides that election thing everyone seems to be talking about.
The Question Marks
-SU's secondary hasn't been one of its strong points and they lost two starters (A.J. Brown and Kevyn Scott) to injury in Saturday's game. The rejuvenated Rutgers passing attack would stretch the secondary even at full health. Thus, any lingering injuries will likely give Mike Teel plenty of chances to find Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood roaming free down the field. It's strange to think that way, but an opponent could actually test SU's secondary before they go after the run defense this weekend.
-Who's going to step up and earn the mantle of #1 target on this team. It's nice to have so many young faces succeeding, but when it comes to crunch time, just who does Cam Dantley throw the ball to? Well, right now, nobody really knows. Donte Davis is the leading receiver, but it was Da'Mon Merkerson who came out of nowhere Saturday. And Mike Owen, the team's second-leading pass catcher put up a goose egg.
-In a completely hypothetical scenario, how many wins would be enough to save G-Rob? It might not be too late. If God decided to bless the Salt City with an abundance of miracles this November (besides snow, cold weather and Jimmy B's squad), SU could win out and find itself bowl-eligible. Would that be enough to do it? Or would SU have to win its bowl game (a la the 2004 Champs Sports Bowl shellacking that ultimately resulted in Coach P's dismissal)? Perhaps even getting to five wins would be enough? One thing is for certain. If they don't get five wins, he's a dead man walking (or at least a jobless one for the time being). Now, if SU can win a road game to prove their mettle (that national TV spot against Notre Dame would make the biggest splash) and snag wins over Cincy and UConn, two teams that should finish towards the top of the Big East standings, could Greg's job seriously be saved? Well, we know Dr. Daryl Gross isn't too keen on admitting when he's wrong (not that any of us are), so one could say that stranger things have happened than G-Rob getting another year out of this. But I'd put those odds between those of…say, the odds of me seeing a UFO tonight and the odds that Syracuse has snow at some point during March.
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