It’s official, Syracuse football has mastered the art of torture. Last weekend, the bowl future of the Orange looked bleak. Not only did SU have to win its ballgame in Pittsburgh, but a host of other scenarios had to play out just to find a bowl slot. Predictably, what needed to happen happened, and the Orange found a way to give that gift right back.
Of course USF would lose in heartbreaking fashion. Of course UConn would get blitzed in Cincinnati. And of course SU would cough it up six – count it SIX – times, to holiday-wrap the Panthers a victory and flip the bird to the bowl committees.
Ryan Nassib – who played helter skelter under center all afternoon – eluded the rush, down 26-20 with 2:30 minutes to play. He was promptly blindsided, ball popping free and returned for the back-breaking TD by Pitt (pictured above). It was that type of season for Nassib and Orange – finding ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
What to make of a program that acted exactly the opposite of what we expected? Under Doug Marrone SU was headed in the right direction and building off a bowl game. The Orange folded like a flip-phone the final five weeks of the season, and finished with exactly one good win – over West Virginia. The Dougie was supposedly instilling this team with a new discipline, yet when it mattered most the Orange committed an ungodly 6 turnovers and 10 penalties to end the season.
The Orange – in Marrone’s reflection – had typified resiliency and smarts. Yet, here was his team looking like an undisciplined band of knuckleheads, giving away the game of their lives.
At Big East Media Day, I asked Marrone to discuss what the Pinstripe Bowl win meant to him and the program. He steadfastly refused to revel in any of it, instead admitting he had yet to even rewatch the game film. He had moved on to the new season, and wanted to remind every giddy Orange fan, his alma mater hadn’t accomplished anything yet.
It was prophetic. The Dougie knew something we didn’t. He knew last year was flukey – a blend of luck, momentum and good vibes feeding an under-talented group in a mess of a conference. He knew this team was still not good enough to roll out of bed Saturday morning and beat anyone – including Tulane, Toledo or Rhode Island. Subtracting the Mountaineers, the combined record of the teams SU beat this year: 19-29.
But that doesn’t absolve responsibility from Marrone. You can’t simply excuse away SU’s woes because of a dearth of talent. No team in the Big East should lose 5 straight games. Even a Pop Warner squad can prevent 6 (goodness, I can barely type this number) turnovers on one afternoon. Dumb penalty after dumb penalty has nothing to do with the rank of your recruiting class.
For some reason the ’11 Orange played unlike Marrone’s vision for it, especially when it mattered most. Last year, SU found ways to win. This season, the Orange gave away games and choked in crucial spots. Is Syracuse and Marrone ascending or descending as a program? Don’t answer that right now.