Syracuse has reached the halfway point at a solid 4-2, yet the vibe going into the bye week is mostly negative. With its toughest opponent of the season looming, the Orange stumbled into the off week with a mistake-filled loss to hated Rutgers, and a narrow escape from the Superdome against lowly Tulane.
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The good news is that Doug Marrone and company will have an extra week to cure their ills before the Mountaineers come calling. Here’s what the Orange needs to focus on to make the most of its bye week:
1. Find a solution for the offensive line woes.
The Orange has given up 12 sacks to this point (2 per game), but the pass protection has been worse than that number indicates. Ryan Nassib has done a good job of avoiding plenty more would-be losses with his feet, but has thrown the ball earlier than he wanted far too often. The line has also cost the Orange too many holding penalties (Michael Hay was tagged with 3 himself against Tulane).
The passing game has been lacking in big plays, largely because Nassib hasn’t been afforded enough time to get the ball down field. This is a unit that came into the season with high hopes, in part because of The Dougie’s expertise on the offensive line. He needs to spend some quality time with this group over the next two weeks.
2. Restore Nassib’s confidence.
The signal caller started the season on a roll with back-to-back three touchdown games, but his performance has been less than stellar since. He completed only 15 of 32 passes for 169 yards with three turnovers against the Knights. Against Tulane he completed just 55% of his passes for under 200 yards and couldn’t move the ball for much of the second half. Fixing #1 on this list could go a long way towards making Nassib more comfortable, but he also needs to use this practice time to get back in rhythm with his receivers. If the Orange is going to compete with offenses like West Virginia and Cincinnati in Big East play, it needs Nassib on the top of his game.
3. Find another tailback to pair with Antwon Bailey.
Bailey has been the most reliable weapon for SU, averaging 107 total yards per game, but his workload might be a little too heavy. The 5’7 201 lbs. back has averaged just under 25 carries per game so far. If that rate continues, the risk of Bailey wearing down later in the season is high, and this offense can’t afford for him to become ineffective. With Prince-Tyson Gulley out for the season, Marrone needs to find someone else to share the load with Bailey. It appears that freshman Adonis Ameen-Moore has the inside track, after seeing his first action against Tulane
4. Somehow, someway, improve the pass defense.
This may be the most difficult problem of all for the Orange to fix. Syracuse surrendered 355 yards through the air to Tulane, including blown coverages that led to touchdowns of 60 and 58 yards. Getting Shamarko Thomas healthy should help, but corners Kevyn Scott, Keon Lyn, and Rishard Anderson have struggled in coverage and given up too many big plays. Given the lack of depth already in the secondary, any personnel changes seem unlikely. The pass rush has also struggled in the absence of Chandler Jones. There is no easy fix for corners misplaying the ball, but at the very least this secondary needs to eliminate the total breakdowns that have led to big plays.
Syracuse certainly has a lot to work on heading into the second half, but the good news is there’s ample time to improve. The bye week is coming at the right time for this team, and they need to make the most of it with the Big East favorite on deck.
Posted: Steve Neikam