My Internet has a habit of not working. For example, this morning I was trying to watch the latest episode of Jersey Shore for the second time because I wanted to re-watch the Sammi-JWOWW fight and pick a winner. I had to restart my Internet three times just to get through the fight part of the episode, which lasted less than seven minutes. I didn’t have time to fight with it so I could get to the end and dissect the Angelina-Vinny hook-up (probably a good thing).
I wish my Internet stopped working after the first quarter of today’s Syracuse-Washington game.
After going three and out to start the game, SU got a second chance when Washington got whistled for a face mask on the ensuing punt. Ryan Nassib took the opportunity and ran with it—literally—rushing for 28 yards and a touchdown. A field goal on Syracuse’s second drive made it 10-0. So much for a tough Washington crowd (I saw a ton of empty seats, by the way). Meanwhile, the Orange D, lead by tackling machines Phillip Thomas and Derrell Smith, was keeping the pressure on future first-round NFL draft pick Jake Locker, preventing his receivers from gaining yards after catches, and stifling the running game. Washington punted on its first possession and only managed only a field goal in the first quarter. Even the offensive line looked decent. Was this actually happening? Was Syracuse not just hanging with but beating a Pac-10 team and shutting down its stud QB in the process? This couldn’t possibly last.
Sure enough, it didn’t. Slowly but surely, things started to return to form. First, the O-Line stopped blocking and Nassib was sacked on the first drive. I am already getting sick and tired of typing, “the offensive line needs to step it up,” but I might as well get used to it. This is a young and inexperienced unit that needs time to improve.
Then, the defense that looked so good against Akron last weekend started to show some holes during the Huskies’ first drive of the second quarter, the Washington O-line started blocking better and Locker had much more time to find receivers. Still, Syracuse shut the Huskies down on the goal line as Washington inexplicably took the ball out of Locker’s hands and tried to run it into the end zone. 10-6 SU. Hey, it could be worse.
Prince-Tyson Gulley basically gift-wrapped momentum for the Huskies in the form of a fumbled punt return on Syracuse’s 22-yard line that resulted in a Washington touchdown. Unlike Akron, Udub made Syracuse pay for its mistakes. Ross Krautman missed a field goal with 1:18 to go in the half and SU down 13-10. Someone fix Ryan Lichtenstein’s leg, please. It looked like he would have a chance to redeem a minute later. Instead of kicking the field goal on third down with seven seconds left, Doug Marrone elected to try one more play. Does Marrone not trust Krautman? Yet again, the offensive line did a terrible job blocking (raise your hand if you’re surprised!), Nassib fumbled, and SU went into the locker room empty handed.
There are two ways to look at the first half: a. Syracuse is hanging with a Pac-10 opponent on the road, the defense is playing well, and until that last play, Nassib did not looked too rattled or b. SU blew a 10 point lead and is imploding before our very eyes. I’m a realist. I picked b. I’m a fan. I wanted to be wrong.
Unfortunately, I was right (how often does someone say that?). Syracuse had been doing a very solid job at preventing Washington’s receivers from gaining yards after catches….until Jermaine Kearse avoided tackle after tackle en route to a 57-yard touchdown. Later, Kearse and Locker connected again to make it 27-10 Washington. Kearse dominated the SU defense and eve outshined Locker, picking up 179 yards and three touchdowns. Despite his first-half issues, Locker threw for 289 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. To its credit, the Orange defense limited Locker to 12 rushing yards. A team obliterating was the SU football team. Ah, yes, order had been officially restored to the universe.
The D could not limit Chris Polk. After Krautman’s field goal gave the Orange its first points since the first quarter (within 2 touchdowns! This is doable!), Polk went on a 52-yard dash to the end zone. Insert dagger. 34-14 Washington. Ten minutes later, Syracuse wasn’t undefeated anymore.
The ‘Cuse defense, which had been so good against the run, allowed Polk to rush for 125 yards and a touchdown. Polk is just the third player in 14 games to rush for more than 100 yards against Syracuse. I can’t just say “Well, the defense only looked good against Akron” because unfortunately, SU hasn’t just been playing against the Zips for the last year. I thought Locker and Kearse would have good days and suspected Polk rush for more than 100 yards, but I honestly did not believe the Orange defense would allow the Huskies to put 41 points on the board. Not after watching the unit for the past year. Not after last week. Not after the first quarter—or even the first half in general. Even that goal line stand was promising because it showed the Orange could buckle down and shut a team down under pressure.
As for Syracuse’s running game, it did not really get off the ground (no pun intended) until the fourth quarter when Delone Carter started picking up more than two yards per carry. DC3 finished 91 yards rushing, Nassib with 20, and Antwon Bailey with an uninspiring 16. The running game was supposed to be strength for the Orange but instead it has been dormant and lacking depth for the first two games. Bailey needs to become more of a factor on this team. Much of the running game’s issues can be attributed to the offensive line’s inability to block and create holes for the backs to run through.
The lack of running game and an offensive line that does not protect its quarterback, either, has put too much pressure on Nassib in his first two starts. He is constantly forced to scramble and run himself out of trouble. If he has to do this every game, he will wear down. Nassib had another solid outing despite his accuracy dropping a little from last week, throwing for 202 yards on 17-35 passing. He was sacked twice and threw an interception.
See, the game wasn’t all bad. Nassib played well for the most part and showed promise yet again. I know the second half probably left a sour taste in Orange fans’ mouths, but we did see some good things out of the defense in the first 30 minutes. The ‘Cuse really hung with and shut down a Heisman trophy candidate who could be playing on Sundays this year. For a while there, the defense was making tackles when it needed to and guarding well against the run. Smith and Thomas had 14 and 12 tackles respectively. Things fell apart and the score may look like a typical SU football score, but this is not a typical SU football team. There really is hope.
Hopefully my Internet holds up long enough for me to post this and hopefully it takes the Orange less time to figure out its O-Line issues than it took for Sammi to figure out who wrote The Letter.
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.