Everyone has a prediction of what may or may not happen every year. By the end of the season? Most of us are proven to be comically wrong. I started this season telling you that six wins would be the magic number for this Syracuse football program. Four wins were the worst case scenario. Five wins would be the expectation but six is the benchmark. At the time it seemed like it would take a perfect storm for the Orange to get to six. But it is a good thing games aren’t played out on paper because it is only week 2 and Syracuse is already faced with a game that could decide its season against Washington.
I say that for a combination of reasons, not the least of which is the performance last week against Akron. Yes, I understand it’s Akron and the Zips will have all sorts of issues this year. But this is what we pulled out from the first game.
Give Ryan Nassib time and at the very least he’s capable under center. He earned Big East player of the week honors with his 229 yard, two touchdown performance last week.
The receiving corps will provide Nassib with plenty of sound options if the running game is slowed. Seven different players caught a pass on Saturday led by Van Chew and Alec Lemon with eight catches and 128 receiving yards combined.
The defense can keep the Orange around in every game this year. It blitzed effectively when the situation called for it and played sound defense when only the front four rushed the passer. It’s a fun unit to watch.
Put those three things together, add in a bit of good luck (like every team needs throughout the year) and you have the makings of a bowl team. The Orange would need seven total wins to make a bowl since only one of the two FCS opponents, Maine and Colgate, on the Syracuse schedule would count toward the bowl win total. But after last week in Akron, the Orange have people believing that head coach Doug Marrone is moving things in the right direction. A win over Washington and the fighting Jake Lockers should put the Orange at 4-0 going into Big East play.
As for the Huskies and the game in Seattle on Saturday at 7pm ET I’m hardly breaking any news by saying it starts and ends with quarterback Jake Locker. If you haven’t heard about the accolades heaped upon him to this point I’ll keep it simple. Had he decided to turn pro at the end of last year, he would’ve been the first player taken in the NFL Draft. He’s the guy that makes the offense go and has been the center to a Huskies revival along with head coach Steve Sarkisian over the last few years.
Washington lost its first game of the season against BYU but if Syracuse is going to pull off the upset it’s going to have to start with its defense. Locker’s almost as potent with his feet as he is with his arm leading the team with seven rushing scores last year. It will be on the front seven to stifle the ground attack between Locker and RB Chris Polk who finished last season with more than 1100 yards rushing and five scores.
When Locker drops back he’ll have his top WRs from last season to get the ball to. Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar combined for more than 1400 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. The weapons are there offensively for Washington to do as it pleases. If the defense can’t stifle the attack it won’t matter what Nassib and Co. get done on the other side of the ball.
When it comes to the Syracuse offense against the Washington defense, Nassib will certainly face a tougher unit compared to last week, but it will hardly be unmanageable. The Huskies finished last is season ranked no higher than third in the Pac-10 in any defensive category (tackles for loss) and actually finished 8th or worse rush defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. Washington followed that up with a performance against BYU in which BYU QBs threw for 262 yards and two scores while the rushing attack found the end zone twice as well. None of these numbers are particularly egregious. But none of them are particularly impressive either. Nassib will have ample opportunity to perform well this week. But are you at a point where you can rely on him to win a game for you going across the country in hostile territory? Even the most ardent of Syracuse fans should have their doubts.
The key in this game is the Syracuse front 7 against Jake Locker. Against Akron the Syracuse defense dialed up the blitz effectively when it needed it. It played sound defense at all three levels and really didn’t let Akron get going all night. The Orange front 7 needs to have the same success getting to Locker as it did against Akron. Doug Hogue and Derrelle Smith need to keep Locker in the pocket and prevent from scrambling out on broken plays. The defensive backs will have an easier time in coverage if Locker’s timing is thrown off. Against a QB of Locker’s caliber with the weapons he has in the receiving corps and handing off to Polk, you may not stifle the offense entirely. But this game will dictate what your expectations and predictions should be for the rest of the year.
Syracuse is 1-11-1 playing on the West Coast or in Texas since 1964. If this is truly a season of change, the Marroniacs will come back from the West Coast happy and 2-0.
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Written by Lutfi Sariahmed
Prince-Tyson Gulley for the win