For a season with so much hand-wringing and griping about missed opportunities and state of the program, Syracuse is really pouring it on in the second-half of the season. A dramatic 31-27 win at Missouri means the Orange is bowl eligible, and has a chance to finish the season with 7 victories. Here’s my instant reaction:
- A standing ovation for Doug Marrone is in order. The program is not ranked, let alone a player on the national stage. But the last two weeks have officially been his stamp on the Orange. His squad took off their cleats and beat #9 Louisville over the head with them last weekend on Senior Day. Then went into an SEC venue and grabbed bowl eligibility in a thriller. SU should go bowling for the second time in four seasons. Marrone has officially dragged the program out of the Groobers death pit. There were questions about how warm his seat was getting at midseason. That seems like a long time ago.
- What an incredible turnaround in the second half of the season. The Orange is 5-2 since Big East play started, with a chance to net 6 wins in that span next weekend at Temple. The Owls are no pushover. They’ve played plenty of Big East opponents tough, and just hung 63 on Army. But Syracuse looked to have buried itself with three non-conference losses. Since an uninspiring 1-3 start, the Orange has played its best football down the stretch.
- Ryan Nassib’s flair for the dramatic is only getting more exciting. It’s going to be hard to watch him graduate, simply because we are watching him develop into one of the program’s better quarterbacks in the final few games of his college career. He threw for 385 yards, 2 TDs, and zipped the 17-yarder to Alec Lemon for the GW score with just seconds to play. He’s had an ice water blood transfusion over the last two months.
- You can officially start asking where Nassib ranks on the list of Syracuse quarterbacks all-time. He is now the school’s all-time leading passer in yards. He won’t reach the rarified air of Donovan McNabb, Don McPherson or Marvin Graves in many people’s minds because those three presided over eras where SU was a national championship contender. But he’ll have gone to two bowl games, thrown for a ton of yards, and shown enormous leadership skills. Nassib’s name will go down with the greats in program history.
- What an absolutely stupid game through the air for Lemon. Not only did he nab the game-winner, but he had a dozen grabs for 244 yards and two scores. He fell just five yards short of the SU single-game record of 249 yards established by Scott Schwedes in 1985 against Boston College. Nassib-to-Lemon was nearly indefensible all night. The last two weeks have been dynamic between these two. They’re on a different level with a QB/WR connection. Lemon had 7 catches for 140 yards in the 4th quarter.
- Syracuse has shown impeccable resiliency in turning its season around. The Orange rallied from a 17-3 deficit last night, to cap off yet another game where SU had to dig itself out of another hole. It’s not the easiest way to win games, but the Orange is showing how much heart and guts it has on a weekly basis.
- For all the complaining about Nate Hackett’s play-calling, he’s turning some heads late in the year. Syracuse topped 500 yards of total offense for the sixth time this season. The Orange tallied 508 yards (385 passing, 123 rushing) against the Tigers, including 301 in the second half. Nassib has developed into one of the great clutch QBs in the nation. Hackett may start getting some love as a young coordinator on the rise.
- It looked like the Orange had once again buried itself with a late turnover, although it really wasn’t a bad decision. The late INT was a bad stroke of luck, a deflected pass that popped into the Mizzou defender’s arms. Missouri leads the FBS in forced fumbles, dislodging the football 20 times this season. But the Orange didn’t cough it up all game, and the teams split the two turnovers on the night. Missouri came in 0-3 when it loses the turnover battle. SU was 5-1 when it has a favorable turnover margin. Missouri has played seven games that included a fourth quarter turnover. This was the first one where the team that turned it over late still won the game.
- Two missing players hurt the Tigers badly. Mizzou’s a pretty bad offense (103rd in the nation), but has a stout D (35th). So the loss of DT Sheldon Richardson was huge. Richardson’s history of academic problems makes Fab Melo look like Aristotle. And Marcus Murphy leads the nation with four combined kickoff and punt return touchdown, but he didn’t play either.
- Syracuse won the penalty battle 8-to-5, a critical stat that has doomed the Orange on the road all season. SU ranks near the bottom of FBS, (115th) in penalties committed, averaging 8.2 penalties per game. But less than a half dozen in Columbia was another example of how much this team is growing late in the season, and putting itself in position to win.
- Had to figure Doc Gross would find a way to get himself into the action. He was standing behind the end zone on the game-winning TD, and chest-bumped Lemon after the score. Isn’t there a luxury suite or seat in the stands he should be tending to? Gross is never one to miss a photo opp.