Not much has been said about the The Ryan Nassib Effect on the Orange running game to this point, or how it could influence the Syracuse ground assault as the year progresses.
Fans have loved the start that Nassib, the redshirt sophomore, has had. Particularly in the wake of his latest performance, which consisted of 260 yards and five touchdowns through the air in a home opening win against the Maine Black Bears.
Yet this seems contrary to all the forecasts about the offense that were made before the season started.
The strength, ostensibly, was going to be the running game.
Senior Delone Carter, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, was back and looking better than ever.
The offensive line, while revamped with several new starters, was receiving terrific reviews from the coaches as well as the squad's running backs and quarterbacks.
Now, here we are, three games into the season and it seems like all of the expectations have been turned around. The passing game has been terrific, while the rushing attack appears to have hit the ground stumbling.
So what’s been the problem so far? Well, in short, it’s Nassib.
I don’t mean that as a knock on the young quarterback. The numbers aren’t lying here— his 148.3 quarterback rating is 30th in the country and second in the Big East, behind only Geno Smith of West Virginia.
No, the thing that has plagued the Orange running game has been the preseason expectations for the aerial attack.
Three weeks ago, Ryan Nassib had never started in a college football game, the top two receivers on the depth chart combined for 361 receiving yards last year, and the third receiver was a transfer from Hofstra.
Just like the fans, every opponent Syracuse has played was expecting the Orange to be a running team this year and it game planned accordingly.
That was certainly the case with Maine, which decided to focus on stopping Delone Carter and was subsequently torched for five touchdowns through the air this weekend.
“Maine did a nice job against the run,” Doug Marrone said in his postgame press conference. “They had a lot of people down there and were playing inverted weak safety, which takes away your weak side running game.They were coming to the strong side and bringing down the strong safety so they had some three-deep coverage and a little two trap.”
Essentially, Marrone saw that Maine was intent on stopping Carter and he decided to take advantage of that by throwing the ball over the top of the defense.
This has basically been the storyline of the first three games and, really, it's something we probably should have expected.
Carter only carried the ball 15 times this weekend. So far, his numbers haven’t been down because of anything he’s done; he’s simply not going to get the ball as much if the Orange hold a better advantage in the skies.
As Nassib and the rest of the offense continue to prove that they’re going to hurt defenses who sell out against the run, it’s going to open up a lot more space for Carter and Antwon Bailey to run wild later in the year.
Some teams can get away with running the ball predictably because their offensive lines and their tailbacks are so good that even when teams throw eight or nine guys in the box, they’ll still manage to move the ball on the ground.
For Syracuse, the offensive line may be improved, but it’s not quite good enough to plow the road for the running backs when the entire opposing defense is keying in stopping them from doing just that.
If the pass protection that Nassib has received is any indication, though, the offensive line has improved.
Later this year, after Syracuse’s opponents figure out that the Orange have a quarterback who can hurt them, that is when you’ll begin to see the path begin to clear, and the tandem of Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey will truly be unleashed.