Syracuse Preview - Where Is The Payoff?
Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib
Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib
Posted Jun 1, 2012 2012 Preview - Syracuse Orange

Syracuse Orange

Preview 2012

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Doug Marrone
Third year: 17-20
Returning Lettermen
Off. 18, Def. 20, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Syracuse Players
1. LT Justin Pugh, Jr.
2. WR Alec Lemon, Sr.
3. SS Shamarko Thomas, Sr.
4. LB Marquis Spruill, Jr.
5. QB Ryan Nassib, Sr.
6. PK Ross Krautman, Jr.
7. LB Dan Vaughan, Sr.
8. DT Jay Bromley, Jr.
9. WR Marcus Sales, Sr.
10. DE Brandon Sharpe, Sr.
2012 Schedule

Sep. 1 Northwestern
Sep. 8 USC (in MetLife)
Sep. 15 Stony Brook
Sep. 22 at Minnesota
Oct. 5 Pitt
Oct. 13 at Rutgers
Oct. 19 Connecticut
Oct. 27 at USF
Nov. 3 at Cincinnati
Nov. 10 Louisville
Nov. 17 at Missouri
Nov. 23 at Temple

Where did all of the momentum go that Syracuse amassed in 2010’s breakout campaign?

The upcoming season shape up as a crossroads one for the Orange. No, it wasn’t a catastrophe that the team went 5-7 in 2011, though the five-game, season-ending losing streak could have a lingering effect. However, at an unabashed basketball school, such as this one, failing to build on the eight-win season of a year earlier qualified as an unmistakable lost opportunity in Upstate New York. Another losing season will almost certainly stifle the progress the program has made under fourth-year head coach Doug Marrone, while squelching some of the excitement and optimism running through the veins of the fan base. In an odd sort of way, the coach has become a victim of his own early success.

Making matters worse, the Orange has significant holes to fill on both sides of the ball, heaping pressure on veteran QB Ryan Nassib to do a fair amount of the heavy lifting in his final season of eligibility. On offense, the program has lost 1,000-yard rushers, Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey, in consecutive seasons, and an already shaky O-line needs to rebuild on the right side. The D, while formidable at linebacker, is going to be hit-or-miss on the first and final lines of defense. Adding to the personnel challenges is the fact that the offseason has been an extension of last year, featuring more injuries than the two-deep can realistically handle.

Syracuse needs to relocate the feeling it had on a chilly late December evening in the Bronx, when it surprised Kansas State, 36-34, for what seemed to be a wind-at-the-sails type victory. Anything less is sure to squander much of the on-campus energy and resurgence that had been gradually building in 2010. Plus, the Orange is going to need to begin bracing now for an upgrade in competition in 2013; if the program is finding the Big East daunting, just wait until it joins the ACC next fall.

What to watch for on offense: Star-Broyld. Looking for some pop on offense, especially in the running game, the coaching staff could turn to a rookie, who doesn’t even have a set position yet. Ashton Broyld is technically a 6-4, 229-pound quarterback. However, since he’s such a good athlete, and would be buried on the depth chart anyway, the Orange plan to employ his dual-threat skills in myriad different ways. He’s listed third on the depth chart at running back, but will also take direct snaps in “Wildcat” looks, and even split out wide as a super-sized receiver.

What to watch for on defense: Pining for pressure. While coordinator Scott Shafer is all about dialing up pressure as much as feasibly possible, uncertainty at defensive end could force the coach to become creative. Yeah, he’ll deploy his linebackers and safeties on seek-and-destroy missions, but how often will depend on the development of the ends. The Orange needs to replace both Mikhail Marinovich and first-round NFL Draft pick Chandler Jones, a daunting task. The three-man rotation will be comprised of a situational pass rusher, Brandon Sharpe, a rookie, Donnie Simmons, and a repurposed nose tackle, Deon Goggins. From the trio, Syracuse is hoping to mount an adequate pass rush.

The team will be far better if… the defense begins to stiffen when it matters most, on third downs and in the red zone. The Orange finished last in the Big East in total defense and scoring D, and stumbled particularly badly down the stretch. The team had problems halting drives with big stops, too often allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete passes in order to extend drives. Syracuse needs to rally around its linebackers and S Shamarko Thomas, playing with a lot more assertiveness than it did in 2011.

The Schedule: The Orange have an interesting non-conference slate to kick things off going the Big Ten route with Northwestern coming to the Carrier Dome and going to Minnesota late September, but the real fun will come in MetLife Stadium against USC. With a game against the Trojans and a mid-November game at Missouri, a layup against Stony Brook can be forgiven. The big problem will be the home dates - there aren't enough of them. After the Big East opener against Pitt on October 5th just two of the final seven games are at home. On the plus side, one of the home games is against one of the league's tougher teams, Louisville.

Best offensive player: Junior LT Justin Pugh. In two years, Pugh has gone from a good recruit to one of the nation’s premier offensive tackles. The 6-6, 292-pounder has been named All-Big East in each of his two seasons of work, rapidly improving as the shield for QB Ryan Nassib’s blindside. While he continues to pack on weight and add muscle, he hasn’t lost the quick feet or balance that has made him so effective at sealing off the Big East’s fastest edge rushers. He’s the complete package at the position, blending great leverage and technique with a complete grasp of the Orange system.

Best defensive player: Senior SS Shamarko Thomas. The fact that Thomas has yet to be named All-Big East in three years as a starter is hardly indicative of his skill level or his importance to this defense. He’s a true tone-setter, both on the field and away from it, displaying the kind of indefatigable work ethic that leaves an impression on the younger Orange players. An outstanding all-around defender, with the strength of a linebacker, he roams the defensive backfield like a headhunter, looking for someone to thump. After being limited by nagging injuries to just 67 tackles, Thomas is eyeing his best season yet at Syracuse.

Key players to a successful season: The O-line, specifically the right side. If Syracuse is going to recapture some of the swagger it had two years ago, it’ll have to start up front. The blockers did a horrible job a year ago, both in terms of pass protection and opening holes for the running backs. During the season-ending five-game losing streak, QB Ryan Nassib was treated like a piñata. The left side of the line should be fine with Justin Pugh and Zack Chibane at tackle and guard, respectively. However, the right side is breaking in two new starters, neither of whom tore it up in the spring.

The season will be a success if ... the Orange returns to the postseason. After coming so close a year ago, anything south of a December bowl game will a major disappointment, and further proof that 2010 might have been a fluke. Syracuse needs to stop the bleeding now before it becomes a full-blown hemorrhage, or else the program will be in danger of returning to the Greg Robinson era. This is a crucial year in the Carrier Dome, one that must end with at least seven wins and some bowl swag.

Key game: Sept. 1 vs. Northwestern. Since Syracuse ended last season so poorly, the way it starts this season will be of utmost importance. The Orange needs to snap its five-game losing streak as quickly as possible, and eradicate all of the bad vibes that go along with it. With a neutral site meeting against USC in the on-deck circle, Doug Marrone’s kids can ill-afford a home loss to the Wildcats to open the season.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Red-zone touchdown %: Syracuse 52% – Opponents 44%
- First-quarter scoring: Syracuse 44 – Opponents 71
- Net punt average: Syracuse 34.8 - Opponents 37.4
- 2012 Syracuse Preview | 2012 Syracuse Offense
- 2012 Syracuse Defense | 2012 Syracuse Depth Chart