While the college football season officially gets underway tonight with Ohio State, Miami and Big East favorite Pittsburgh in action, Syracuse and Akron have only another two days to go. On a national scale, this Big East v. Mac tussle doesn’t even rank in the top 20 of most intriguing games. The only discussion this game may be drawing asks if there are two teams with more bizarre mascots than the Orange and the Zips. Syracuse may be better off never telling us whether they’re talking about orange the color or orange the fruit because neither is a better option. On the flipside, if anyone can explain to me what a Zip is please leave a comment at the bottom or email me, Lutfi.Sariahmed@gmail.com. I think it’s a kangaroo according to their logo, but I have no clue.
Mascot banter aside, this game will certainly say a lot as to the direction of both teams for the rest of the season. Both Syracuse and Akron come in still under relatively new regimes with Doug Marrone starting year two at Syracuse and first year head coach Rob Ianello at Akron. Ianello served as a receivers coach at Notre Dame and was the interim head coach after Charlie Weis was fired. Once Brian Kelly was named the new head coach for the Fighting Irish, Ianello made the jump over as the head man at Akron.
This will be the third meeting in three years between the two sides come Saturday. If you remember in my last post, I talked about last year’s game, a 28-14 win for the Orange. In 2008 Akron made a mockery of the Orange defense winning 42-28. The names may have changed but the game remains the same and there are a few similarities here that we should see on Saturday night.
In two meetings against Akron the Orange have rushed for more than 450 yards as a team. In 2008 it was a 143-yard performance by Curtis Brinkley and a year later it was Delone Carter doing the damage with 170 yards and three touchdowns. Akron has six returning starters in their front seven on defense including linebacker Brian Wagner who finished 7th nationally in tackles (132). But considering the performances the Orange have had on the ground the last two times out, that may not be a good thing for Ianello in his debut. With the Orange starting a relatively green QB in Ryan Nassib, look for Ianello to focus on stopping the run early and often. There will be eight in the box for the Zips forcing Nassib to beat them with his arm.
The one thing the first two games in this series did not lack for is offense. 112 points have been scored combined and the quarterbacks have contributed their fair share as well. Cameron Dantley threw for three scores in 2008 while Greg Paulus’ debut at QB was a solid one going 12 for 17 with one score last year. Nassib may not have a better opportunity to make a debut and get any nerves he may have in order than right here. Akron only has one returning starter in their defensive backfield that already ranked 7th in the conference in pass efficiency last year. Monday we discussed how Nassib would have every opportunity to keep the starting QB spot and he may not have a better platform to reaffirm that position. Whether its running the ball or going through the air, the Syracuse offense looks set for a big game against the Zips defense.
On the other side of the ball the most important job for the Syracuse defense will be to keep the game close while the offense works through any potential issues it may have early on. Offensively Akron shouldn’t pose any tremendous threats with Patrick Nicely returning at QB and sixth-year RB Alex Allen lining up behind him. Last year as a freshman Nicely went 16 for 25 for 191 yards and a score. But two fumbles, eight penalties and going 1 for 11 on 3rd downs will derail even the best of quarterbacks in any game. A year of experience will help but unless he gets a big performance from the injury prone Allen or a thin WR corps, Nicely is going to have some problems. At least on paper, Syracuse has a better team than Akron. So while Ryan Nassib can afford a few hiccups because his defense will pick him up, Nicely may be forced to take the game on his back. It just doesn’t seem like it’s something he can do right now.
Like I said off the top, this game will dictate where both of these teams head for the rest of the year. A win for the Orange and it could be on its way to a 3-1 mark going into conference play. A loss and the potential for even a five-win season could start fading very quickly. Having seen the wins come few and far between over the last few years for Syracuse, your own dose of pessimism is warranted. But if Doug Marrone has done nothing else for this program he’s brought hope back to it at least for now. No reason to think Syracuse won’t come out of Akron for a win in week 1.
As a brief aside before I wrap up, Doug Marrone announced his depth chart against Akron on Monday. You can check that out here. A few surprises here including Marcus Sales who’s not even on the depth chart at wide receiver. Marrone wouldn’t say much about why Sales failed to feature at the press conference but it clearly can’t bode well for the leading returning receiver for Syracuse. One of the biggest questions going into the year for Syracuse was who would help fill the gap left by Arthur Jones in the middle of that line. If we’re to take one game to mean anything, Bud Tribbey and Andrew Lewis are going to get the first shot for the Orange. Two other notes about the first depth chart for Syracuse includes Jose Cruz getting the first shot at tight end over Nick Provo. Three freshmen will figure prominently for Syracuse Saturday. Marquis Spruill and Phillip Thomas will get the start as freshmen at linebacker and free safety respectively. Also keep an eye on Prince-Tyson Gulley who will be the starting return man. Not only does the freshman running back have the best name on the team, but he’s getting the start in his hometown of Akron.
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Written by Lutfi Sariahmed
Prince-Tyson Gulley for the win