Like Ben Schwartzwalder, Dick MacPherson and Greg Robinson before him, head coach Doug Marrone lost his first game with the Syracuse Orange on Saturday.
Fortunately for the Syracuse program, there were plenty of signs during the game that Marrone’s career may more closely resemble the careers of Schwartzwalder and MacPherson than Greg Robinson’s.
The Orange took on one of the middle weights of the Big 10 in Minnesota and despite low expectations heading into week one, Syracuse was able to put a legitimate scare into the Gophers before succumbing in overtime 23-20.
But what did we learn about the 2009 version of the Syracuse Orange?
The correct answer is quite a bit, and plenty of it was encouraging.
Most notably, the defense appears to be night and day better than it has been in recent years. The defense allowed a quick touchdown after Jim McKenzie snapped the ball over Greg Paulus’ head on the first play and gave Minnesota the ball deep in Syracuse territory.
Following that horrid beginning to the game, the defense clamped down. They allowed only one more touchdown to the Gophers during the first quarter, and gave up nothing but field goals the rest of the way.
The defense displayed a mix of great coverage by the secondary as well as an ability to bring pressure which gave Minnesota’s veteran quarterback Adam Weber fits for a good portion of the game.
Weber completed only 19 of his 42 pass attempts and his numbers would have looked even worse if not for some incredible plays by one of the nation’s best receivers, Eric Decker.
On offense, it was a tale of two halves for Syracuse.
Greg Paulus looked solid early, completing 12 of his 17 passing attempts in the first half, including a 29 yard touchdown to a wide open Mike Williams.
Syracuse employed the short passing game effectively, and combined it with an interesting new wrinkle to their rushing game that they’re calling the Stallion formation.
Basically a variation of the Wildcat offense, the Stallion placed Antwon Bailey in the backfield where he took the snap and had the option of either running the ball himself, or handing it off to Syracuse’s other running back, Delone Carter.
In place of Greg Paulus, second stringer Ryan Nassib came into the game lined up at receiver. He was never directly involved in running or passing the ball, but as a blocker he’s a little bigger than Paulus. It’s possible they may try to use him in a passing situation from this formation at some point as well.
Unfortunately, the offense began to stall in the second half. After scoring 20 points in the first two quarters of the game, Syracuse was shut out in the second half and in overtime.
In the second half, Minnesota played up tighter and did a good job of limiting the short passing game. Syracuse wasn’t able to get much going thanks to Minnesota’s adjustments and the continued struggles of the offensive line.
It would seem Doug Marrone is going to have to find a way to keep defenses honest by at least threatening them with the deep ball once in awhile. Unless Greg Paulus is able to take some shots occasionally, Syracuse will see a lot of defenses loading up the box to take away their running game and short passes.
The good news is that the Orange displayed a diverse offensive play book with a variety of different ways to attack defenses. It’s probably a safe bet to say they also kept something tucked away to surprise Penn State with next week.
- Syracuse appears to have a kicker. Walk-on Ryan Lichtenstein made both of his field goal attempts including a strike right between the uprights from 42 yards out. He also hit both of his extra point attempts.
- Running back Mike Jones looks like a solid kick returner. He brought one deep into Minnesota territory to set up a field goal that gave Syracuse their first points early in the first quarter.
- Mike Holmes and Max Suter are both going to be very good safeties this year. Both looked great in coverage and Mike Holmes had one interception.
- Mike Williams looked a little rusty, despite an overall great game. He dropped a couple of passes, but finished with seven receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown.
- Delone Carter is a beast. He ran for 88 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, but was held back by poor run blocking. He had some very tough runs, and had a couple really good ones called back due to untimely penalties.
My overall thoughts:
This team is going to be the best team Syracuse fans have seen in several years. Thanks to a tough schedule and a lack of depth, it probably won’t translate into bowl eligibility this season though. This team will compete each and every week though, particularly with the Big East being a little down this season.
There is certainly hope, and the offense looks like one that will be extremely potent one day. However, there’s a good chance it will take time because they still lack in talent at some very key positions. Things could get much better if the offensive line develops and Greg Paulus improves as the season goes on.