The UNDEFEATED Syracuse Orange (I love saying that) travels west to Washington to take on the Huskies this weekend. The last time these two faced off was 2007, when the Huskies pounded SU 42-12. Sadly, I think the Carrier Dome crowd was more shocked by the horrendous uniforms Syracuse was wearing than its terrible play that night. Luckily, those uniforms are gone and so is Greg
Robinson. As last week’s win against Akron showed, this team has made some significant improvements under Doug Marrone and his staff, particularly defensive coordinator Scott Shafer. It’s time to turn the page from the inexperienced Zips to a talented but recently humbled Huskies squad.
Who are the Huskies?
The Washington Huskies will provide SU with its first real test of the season on Saturday. The Huskies, picked to finish second in the Pac-10 Conference, lost to BYU 23-17 on the road last weekend. This could be bad news for SU if Washington comes out strong, looking to avenge the loss with a big win in its home opener and prove they are worthy of the hype they were given.
Remember how Akron was learning a new offense? The opposite is true of Washington. Heisman Trophy hopeful Jake Locker quarterbacks a Washington offense that includes star-running back Chris Polk (1,113 yards in 2009) and top receiver Jermaine Kearse (866 yards in 2009). Locker did; however, miss two key fourth-down conversions late in last Saturday’s game, so it will be interesting to see if that has any effect on his play against ‘Cuse. The Orange doesn’t appear to think the unclutch performance will have a negative impact on the future NFL signal caller. His name was the buzzword of this week’s press conferences.
“I think if you just read all the press clippings and the bios, they’re all true,” Marrone said. “He’s a very, very talented quarterback who can run, move, throw the ball anywhere on the field. He does a great job with his reads, he can see full vision.”
In addition to poor offensive play in the second half, the Huskies made some sloppy mistakes on special teams throughout the entire game (sound familiar?), including a muffed snap on a punt that BYU returned for a touchdown.
How to Harness the Huskies:
Contain Jake Locker
Notice that I wrote “contain Jake Locker” and not “shut down Jake Locker.” This is because the latter is probably impossible even though SU’s defense was very impressive on Saturday. The odds of the Orange giving up just 166 yards against Washington are about as good as the odds of it being 60 degrees and sunny on Christmas in Syracuse, but there is a way to limit Locker’s versatility: on the ground. The future NFL-er has a school-record of 1, 583 rushing yards, but only gained 29 yards on 11 carries last week in the loss to BYU. SU will need its defense to step up and make tackles.
“Obviously the concern is the quarterback (Jake Locker) and his running,” Marrone said. “Not only is he a great thrower, but he’s a big, strong athlete and we have to make sure we tackle him low so we can get him down.”
Syracuse has done a good job of limiting its opponent’s rushing games under Scott Shafer. Over the past 13 games, SU has allowed an opponent to gain more than 100 yards on the ground twice: Pittsburgh’s Dion Lewis (110 yards) and UCONN’s Jordan Todman (123 yards), so it is not out of the question that the Orange can continue this trend against Locker. Tackling Locker’s receivers after he throws a 30-yard bomb and not allowing them to gain yardage will also help alleviate some of the damage he is bound to cause. Look for free safety Mike Holmes and linebacker Doug Hogue to lead the charge against Locker in Washington. The seniors had six and five tackles respectively and one sack a piece against Akron last weekend.
Better Blocking on the O-Line
SU will need to do a better job at getting the running game going this week, and much of that will depend on the offensive line. Delone Carter had 91 yards on 26 carries, but got no more than seven yards on a single attempt. The Orange should look to get other backs involved, like Antwon Bailey. In order to do this, the offensive line will need to do a better job blocking and creating holes for the DC3 and Bailey to pick up first downs and run into the Huskies’ end zone.
The O-Line also needs to protect Nassib, who had to run himself out of trouble too many times. That isn’t going to fly this week. If given the chance, Nassib and his deep receiving corps can exploit Washington’s weak pass defense. The offensive line is going to take a while to become a unit and we might not see instant improvement, but Marrone is optimistic.
[The mistakes of the offensive line] are correctable,” Marrone said. “One of the things we have to stress is it’s the little things and we can correct them.”
The Orange’s O-Line will need to focus very hard on the little things because the unit will play a big role in this game.
Clean it up
Holding onto the football against a superior Washington team will be crucial for Syracuse. SU put the ball on the ground five times against Akron, but was able to recover it twice in the first half. The Huskies will turn those turnovers into touchdowns.
Sound Special Teams
The missed PAT, the bad snap leading to a missed PAT, Mike Holmes’s being…Mike Holmes…Syracuse’s special teams was all over the place last week, and Marrone knows it.
“I’m concerned with the dropped punts,” Marrone said. “With Mike [Holmes], we’re going to address that during this week. The PAT snaps we also have to address.”
Holmes did not practice fielding punts Tuesday, but Freshman Prince-Tyson Gulley, senior Max Suter, and junior Dorian Graham did. Gulley got most of the practice.
Kicker Ryan Lichtenstein is still nursing a bad leg. Marrone indicated that for now, Krautman will do the place kicking while Long will handle the kick-offs and punts. Ideally, Marrone would like Kraughtman or Lichtenstein to handle the PATs and field goals while Long handles the punts.
While Holmes is a senior (making his play even more baffling—although apparently it was windy in Akron), it is important to remember that there are a ton of freshman on special teams, including true freshman short snapper Macky MacPherson and Gulley, so improvement is going to take time. That being said, if SU is going to pull off an upset, it is going to have to be nearly perfect and not give up “freebies” like PATs.
Potential X-Factor: Special Teams
If both Washington and Syracuse repeat their poor efforts on special teams, this game could come down to who mishandles less punts or PATs.
The Huskies are going to be hungry for a win against Syracuse after last week’s loss to BYU. Plain and simple, the Huskies are just a better team that will do a much better job at exploiting and capitalizing on Syracuse’s mistakes than Akron did.
- Ryan Nassib and Mike Holmes were named offensive and defensive Big East Players of the Week respectively for their efforts against Akron. If only there was an award for “Big East Punt Returner Most Likely to Give His Coach an Aneurysm….”
- Delone Carter currently sits at 19th on SU’s all-time rushing list with 1, 962 yards. He is 48 yards away for passing Mike Owens and moving into 18th place.
- Since 1964, Syracuse is 1-11-1 in games played on the West Coast.
About the Author
Written by Beth Ann Clyde
I graduated from Syracuse University in 2009 and can count the number of times I witnessed the Orange win a football game on two hands.