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The Fizz 5: Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down From Syracuse’s September

A botched review of a missed PAT is quite possibly the strangest way to win a game, but if it means surviving a major scare and sitting at 3-1, Syracuse will take it. The Orange almost lost a game we all felt it should’ve won, making the diagnosis of good and the bad quite difficult. Here’s our best shot in this week’s Fizz 5:

  • The SU coaches have zero faith in their secondary.

How many of you had heard of Dom Anene before Saturday? Anene, a converted DB-to-LB before spring practice, relied on his old skills to essentially play a rover position. He would sometimes line up in the slot, manned up on a tight end or receiver. Other plays he dropped all the way back to a 3-deep safety look. The reason: Scott Schafer doesn’t trust a true dime package, especially without Shamarko Thomas. He was hesitant on using Brandon Reddish or Ritchy Desir at corner. The problem with taking out an extra lineman is the Orange can’t get pressure, something maginfied by the fact…

Last week we gave the Orange the benefit of the doubt because USC has a history of superior athletes on the offensive line. Syracuse not only didn’t register a sack against Toledo, it barely pressured the Rockets. Magnifying the problem was a banged up Marquis Spruill, who only played in limited situations (mainly 3rd downs). Just like the first three weeks, Danton and Owens had all the time in the world to find a receiver. Even when SU’s coverage did hold up its end of the bargain, there was no contain. As a result the Orange gave up scramble after scramble. Getting healthy is a good first step, but for all the mad scientist formations and personnel packages Schafer has come up with, you’d think one of them would be able to put a quarterback on his ass.

  • SU missed Shamarko Thomas even more.

Shamarko had been the Orange’s best defensive player and while Philip Thomas played his best game of the year against Toledo, it was very clear something was missing. Case in point: how many times did you notice Jeremi Wilkes on the field? Answer: never. When Shamarko and Phillip are on the field together and playing well, you feel like at least one of them is in on every play. According to SU’s box score, Wilkes had 5 tackles. Phillip had double that. Against Wake, Shamarko also had 10. Wilkes is a really good backup, but Shamarko is at a different level and can move down to cover in the slot. If Thomas is playing, this doesn’t happen.

  • SU’s troubling inability to stop the big-play wideout.

Robert Woods last week. Eric Page this week. We saw this coming before the last two games. What’s the solution? Beats the hell out of me. SU tried man the first two weeks and quickly turned mediocre passing games into monsters because the corners struggled so mightily on the outside. The Orange seems to be playing more zone, but the problem still remains. Woods and Page simply sat down in space and racked up catches and yards. This almost cost SU the game on Saturday. The play that put Toledo into range for the tying FG at the end of regulation was a short pass to Page, who then took off for the red zone. This week’s target is Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers. Sanu is not as explosive as Woods, Page or someone like Tavon Austin from WVU. But Schafer is going to bed every night wishing his defense gets healthy and can slow down elite playmakers.

  • Offensively, SU has found its balance.

Nathaniel Hackett’s first half might have been his best half of play-calling in two years. SU barely had the ball in the first half (just 7 total plays in the first quarter), and still put up 13 points to be tied going into the locker room. Antwon Bailey had 28 carries and Ryan Nassib threw the ball less than 25 times for the first time all season. Add in a very strong performance by Prince-Tyson Gulley, who The Fizz expects to get more carries, and the SU offense might be on to something. The only gripe: Van Chew and Alec Lemon had a combined four catches. Getting everyone involved, especially guys like Jarrod West, is good, but you don’t want to stray too far from your best weapons.

This team is a few plays away from being 0-4. But its more important to remember the Orange is 3-1, finding ways to pull out games late. SU is already halfway to a bowl before it’s first Big East game, plus lowly Tulane is still up. While it hasn’t been pretty, the Orange sit exactly where any optimistically realistic fan could have wanted.

Posted: Craig Hoffman

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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