2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Syracuse Orange

Syracuse Capped Off an Eight-Win 2012 With a Dominating Effort Over West Virginia

Syracuse Capped Off an Eight-Win 2012 With a Dominating Effort Over West Virginia

Team: Syracuse Orange

W-L: 8-5

Postseason: 38-14 New Era Pinstripe Bowl win over West Virginia

Top Offensive Performer: Ryan Nassib, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Brandon Sharpe, DE

Syracuse was looking to leave the conference they founded (the Big East) on a high-note, but things didn’t appear to be going as planned when they started off the year a disappointing 2-4. But then something clicked. The Orange, at one time haunted by the ghosts of a five-game losing streak to close 2011, wrapped up 2012 by winning six of seven, including their second Pinstripe Bowl victory in two years. It was a fitting end to send their senior quarterback (and soon after, head coach, too) out in style.

At the focal point of early August’s practices was a complete revamp of the SU offense. Over the past few seasons, the team appeared to get bogged down by their inability to move the ball (24 points per game in 2011; 22 points per game in 2010), and then-offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was tasked with fixing the issue. After quickly installing a no-huddle system with spread elements, it appeared the Orange were in business early in September. While the first two games both resulted in losses, the offense appeared to be firing on all cylinders, mostly by the strength of senior QB Ryan Nassib’s arm. In those two early contests alone, Nassib would complete 75 of 132 passes for 804 yards and six scores. But then the wheels began to come off, and thus entered then-coach Doug Marrone’s “tank” package; implementing goal-line elements on various downs and distances, specifically designed for running back Adonis Ameen-Moore. Once the set took hold, it immediately balanced the Syracuse attack, and a group that was floundering by mid-September finished the year scoring 30 points per game, with the  17th-ranked offense in the country. Nassib and wideout Alec Lemon were still the stars of the show, mind you, but what they really needed to be successful was a well-planned rushing attack — something they saw from October onward, as the SU backfield would end the season ranked 40th in the FBS, racking up 187 yards per game.

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Hyundai Sun Bowl Preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. USC Trojans

Georgia Tech Must Throw the Ball Effectively If They Have Any Shot Against USC

Georgia Tech Must Throw the Ball Effectively If They Have Any Shot Against USC

Neither of these teams should be here. USC, the top team in the nation by many preseason measures, was not supposed to lose any games — let alone five. Georgia Tech, left for dead at 3-5, had no business getting to the ACC title game, let alone playing the Trojans in a New Year’s Eve bowl game. And yet, here we are, pitting two flawed teams against one another in a battle to see who ends 2012 more disappointed than the other.

Bowl Game: Hyundai Sun Bowl

Location: El Paso, Tex.

First Year: 1935

2012 Participants: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-7) vs. USC Trojans (7-5)

Last Meeting: USC over Georgia Tech, 23-6 (1973)

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Georgia Tech (previous bowl game: 30-27 loss vs. Utah in 2012 Hyundai Sun Bowl)

We all saw the script for Georgia Tech’s success play out during the ACC Championship Game against Florida State: Pass the ball with some sort of effectiveness, and continue running their triple-option. The issue then, as it will be again against USC, is figuring out who should be delivering those passes. Tech had three different quarterbacks (Tevin Washington, Synjyn Days and Vad Lee) throw the ball against FSU, and while they had 118 yards through the air, they also completed just five of 16 attempts with two interceptions. Ideally, they should be able to establish a bit more consistency against a USC defense that ranked just 71st in the FBS against the pass, and bump that completion percentage up to somewhere around 50 percent. From a defensive standpoint, recent injuries to key Trojans have flipped the script a bit for the Yellow Jackets. Quarterback Matt Barkley is out following his injury against UCLA back in November, and based on recent reports, it appears star receiver Marquise Lee is also out of commission. Suddenly, Georgia Tech’s focus is now stopping the running game, which could very well carry the load for USC. Neither Silas Redd nor Curtis McNeal have seen all that many carries this season (just 263 between them), so they’ll basically be coming at this game with fresh legs. The Wreck’s run defense was middle-of-the-road this year (47th nationally), but benefited from their offense’s own ball-control style. Teams ran the ball on them just 450 times all year, and still managed to rack up 4.27 yards per carry. If USC dictates the pace, it’s something to watch out for.

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A Tale of Two Upsets: Why ULM Beat Arkansas, But Syracuse Couldn’t Beat USC

UL-Monroe Slayed Their Giant, Arkansas; But Why Couldn’t SU Defeat USC?

While the rankings we assign to teams during each week of the college football season are so subjective and arbitrary that there are calls to abolish them, they do, in many cases indicate the relative strengths of the teams on the field. So, when something like UL-Monroe 34, #8 Arkansas 31 happens, it’s still a shock.  But it also requires something special to happen. Something so whacky and unexpected that the collective consciousness of college football fans is drawn to the game and immediately dons the cap of the Cinderella story. So when Warhawks QB Kolton Browning completes a 23-yard TD pass on fourth down to tie the game, and then later runs for a 16-yard touchdown to seal the victory in OT, that’s when lightning strikes and huge upsets happen. When it doesn’t? Well, that’s when you see USC beat Syracuse by 13.

SU coach Doug Marrone wanted his team to believe they could knock off the second-ranked team in the land on Saturday, and for the most part they did believe it was possible. On the ride down from Central New York, in the locker room and in pre-game warm-ups, there’s a good chance that message still permeated through the minds of every Orange player. But then the proverbial glass slipper was forcibly removed the second the game started. Why? Conservative play-calling.

With his NFL coaching background, it’s understandable why Marrone wouldn’t take many risks. At the professional level, you take very calculated risks to help ensure victory because of the money at stake for you, your players and your franchise. It’s not fun to lose in the NFL, but if you do, there are no rankings to watch out for the next day, no bowl game to position for. At the end of the day, your only job is to make the playoffs, and then see what happens next. Marrone allows himself to forget this at times – see last season’s 49-23 upset of a ranked West Virginia team and the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl victory as prime examples – but for some reason, he wouldn’t against USC.

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