Doug Marrone has the Orange at 2-0 for the first time since 1999
A pair of one-posession victories over an ACC doormat (36-29 against Wake Forrest) and a mediocre FCS opponent (21-14 over Rhode Island) doesn't exactly have Syracuse football fans dreaming of a BCS bowl birth. Nonetheless, the Orange are still unbeaten and they haven't been able to say that at this stage of a season since the first year of the post-Donovan McNabb era.
While that fact isn't completely lost on the program's fanbase, the popular belief is that the first two weeks exposed more strengths than weaknesses. It's time to take a look at what we've seen thus far from the 2011 Syracuse Orange.
Antwon Bailey can't bruise defenders like his predecessor could
The Syracuse offensive line is not going to overwhelm many opponents or create a lot of holes for the tailbacks. But that was also the case in 2010 when the physical presence of bruiser Delone Carter seemed to offset that problem. With Carter taking hand offs from "Not Peyton Manning" in Indianapolis, senior Antwon Bailey is left to carry the load for the Orange.
Standing just 5-foot-7 and weighing a crumpet over 200 pounds, Bailey tends to get swallowed up rather easily by opposing linemen. If you take away his dramatic 53-yard touchdown run against Wake Forrest—which came on a sweep around the end and was set up by some rare key blocks—he is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry.
Alec Lemon is on pace to catch more than 100 balls in 2011
Alec Lemon looked like the grocery store clerk who was sure to squish your bread loaf and drop your eggs in 2010, but the wideout was playing with a bad hand. After an offseason during which Lemon says he sacrificed his summer vacation to work on his game, the junior already has 17 catches. He amassed just 32 grabs all of last season while developing a reputation as a guy with a bad case of "the dropsies." If he keeps getting targeted at this pace, he'll shatter the program record for catches in a season (60, held by Mike Williams and Kevin Johnson).
It could he difficult for Ryan Nassib to stay healthy if he keeps taking hits
At 6-foot-2 and nearly 230 pounds, Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib is built just right for the current state of the Orange offensive line. That is to say he can take a beating, and that's good because he's going to continue to get just that. Nassib was sacked 31 times in 2010, more than any Big East slinger not named Chas Dodd.
Since Doug Marrone took over in 2009, the Syracuse offensive line has allowed 63 sacks, the last three coming against Rhode Island of the FCS on Sept. 10. During the latter part of that game, Nassib began to throw on the run more often and abandon the conventional three-step drops. His accuracy was surprisingly unaffected and he managed a game-winning touchdown toss late in the fourth quarter.
Recruiting top-tier o-lineman to play in the Carrier Dome has consistently been a challenge, so the most successful quarterbacks in the program's history have tended to be that of the mobile kind. With no other experienced field generals on the depth chart, the Orange are hopeful that Nassib's feet don't fail him now.
Marquis Spruill majors in hospitality, but shows none to quarterbacks
With the Sept. 10 game against Rhode Island surprisingly still in doubt, Syracuse began a crucial defensive stand near midfield with just 5:20 remaining. They led Rhode Island by just a touchdown and had allowed the Rams into the end zone in each of the two previous quarters. Two plays later, Rhody were looking at 3rd-and-27 from their own 30-yard line. The reason: Marquis Spruill and the blitz schemes of Syracuse defensive coordinator Scott Shafer.
Spruill, who registered two sacks in all of 2010 while playing as a true freshman, got to Rams quarterback Steve Probst on both first and second down. He was credited with a shared sack on the first blitz and a full one on the second, nearly equaling last year's sack total in a matter of seconds. Probst would throw an interception two plays later to seal the game's fate.
With Lombardi Award watch list member Chandler Jones out indefinitely, the Orange need someone to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Now that defensive end Mikhail Marinovich gets more attention in the absence of Jones, Spruill may just be the X-factor.
Despite the poor play of the secondary, Phillip Thomas recorded two interceptions against Rhode Island
Prior to his early departure due to injury, Wake Forrest quarterback Tanner Price made the Syracuse pass defense look silly on Sept. 1. Six different receivers caught multiple passes as Price threw for nearly 300 yards and three scores in just three quarters of work (his exit came early in the fourth).
Junior Orange safety Phillip Thomas provided a glimmer of hope on Sept. 10, picking off a pair of passes against Rhode Island including one in the final minutes to solidify the win. But Rhode Island's quarterback was no Matt Barkley. The Orange's next opponent, USC, just so happens to have themselves a Matt Barkley. He is presumably licking his chops at the idea of cornerbacks Ri'Shard Anderson and Kevyn Scott lining up against super sophomore Robert Woods on Sept. 17.
His first full season as a starter brought him the program records for most touchdown passes in a game (5) and the most completions in a season (202), but that's starting to look like the tip of the iceberg for Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib.
The senior signal-caller (redshirt junior by athletic standards) is already on track to shatter the school's single-season records for passing yards, completions (again), completion percentage, efficiency, and touchdowns (he's on pace for 36, the record is 22). With a non-existent running attack, Marrone will likely call on Nassib to break his own school record for pass attempts as well (358).