Here’s the keys SU needs to build on after an incredible Friday night.
Friday night’s momentous Syracuse win certainly wasn’t supposed to happen like that. West Virginia was rolling, SU had barely escaped one of the worst teams in the country. Geno Smith was far and away the Big East’s best Heisman candidate. Ryan Nassib was playing like hot garbage. Hot, stinky garbage. But incredibly, it all came up Orange at the Dome. After SU’s best performance arguably in a decade, here’s what we learned in this week’s Fizz 5.
- Doug Marrone and his staff had a brilliant week.
One of the best ways to measure a coach is his record coming off a bye. In his three years at Syracuse, Marrone has coached four games with more than a week to prepare (3 byes, 1 bowl). He’s 4-0. On a regular week, the Orange likely would have implemented a simpler game plan than what it pulled off Friday. Offensively, Marrone/Hackett found ways to make Nassib comfortable again. They exploited a weakness in West Virginia’s defense leaving the tight ends uncovered. Defensively, Scott Shafer brilliantly schemed to stop WVU by using his depth at safety to spread the field with speed. Olando Fisher returned healthy and spent most of his night in the box and backfield as a blitzer. Perhaps The Fizz might have to create a Shafer shirt as well: “Scotty does know!” It could sell.
- The Chan Jones effect is undeniable.
While there should be credit to the coaching staff, there’s no win without players like Jones. He accounted for sacks, batted balls and constant pressure on the quarterback. We wondered how long SU could survive without him, but the difference with Jones back was evident from the first series. Smith felt the heat, couldn’t make the number of plays he usually does and was forced into two INT’s. Jones also had 6 tackles, all unassisted and some of them 10-15 yards downfield. His energy, hustle and leadership is contagious and that unit is a different animal with #99 on the field.
- We have mounting evidence Nassib is capable of so much more.
The Fizz has been critical of the Orange signal caller in the Fizz 5 recently because of hideous play against teams SU should have slaughtered. With the extra week of preperation, a rediscovered cool and control and the arm/intelligence combo we knew he had, Nassib put on the show we were waiting for: 24-32 (75%!), 4 TD’s, 0 INT. The difference was two-fold. First and foremost, Nassib looked comfortable for the first time since the Wake Forest game. He sat in the pocket, went through his progressions and made all the right decisions. Secondly, his offensive line gave him time to do so (more on that below). Was it a perfect game from Nassib? No. He still checked down on a couple of plays where he had guys deep. He still missed one or two throws. But you’ll take that performance any day of the week. This team believes in Nassib wholeheartedly and there’s something to be said for earning faith in that locker room. He’s got the moxie, next step is consistency.
- Win the trenches, win the game.
Syracuse had zero negative plays offensively. None. Zilch. No sacks. No runs stopped behind the line. The only time the ball went backwards was via penalty and SU only committed two when it had the ball (delay of game to give Jonathan Fisher more room to punt, and a personal foul on Michael Hay). The offensive line deserves immense credit. It simply dominated. Meanwhile, the West Virginia line allowed three sacks, got stuffed repeatedly in the run game and committed three penalties. They might be called the big uglies, but the way Syracuse’s lineman played in the trenches was absolutely beautiful.
- It’s not all roses, rainbows and unicorns – just mostly.
Even Bill Belicheck would’ve liked this game from the Orange. Syracuse played well in all three phases. The offense was nearly unstoppable (one punt in the entire 2nd half), the defense limited one of the more explosive attacks in the country, and the Orange used special teams for the turning point of the game (Dorian Graham’s 98-yard scamper to the end zone). There is one negative that sticks out – SU allowed too many big plays defensively. Jeremi Wilkes and Kevyn Scott should not be lined up on the same side of the field. Credit to Wilkes, who kept giving his best after being burned multiple times and came up with an enormous interception. But he was the safety on nearly every big Mountaineer play. The only solution seems to be better positioning, and the ability to strike quickly will keep SU”s opponents in games.
This was a dominant performance. It could be a true tipping point game for the Marrone Era, but the Orange needs to continue playing well. Syracuse football has its swagger back and a confident team is a dangerous team. On to Louisville.
Posted: Craig Hoffman