Syracuse holding its own at midpoint of season
Midway through his third season at his alma mater, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is certain of one thing: The Orange need to improve an awful lot if they hope to come close to duplicating the success of last season.
''From the standpoint of our coaches, we're going to take a good look at ourselves and what we've been doing ... and what we need to do to get better going into another four-game stretch,'' Marrone said Monday on the weekly Big East teleconference. ''Obviously, we have to do better in all three phases for us to be able to compete and get into a good situation with these six games remaining.''
Syracuse is 4-2 and could easily be 5-1 or 0-6. It's that fine of a line. Good one week on offense, not so good the next. Outstanding on defense one week, not so great the next. Special on special teams and not-so-special.
And so it goes in this Jekyll-and-Hyde season as Syracuse enters its first bye week before facing the first Big East game against No. 16 West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) a week from Friday.
The Orange have won twice in overtime - 32-29 over Wake Forest in the season-opener and 33-30 over Toledo - and lost one in double overtime, 19-16 to Big East rival Rutgers, a game that featured nine turnovers.
The Orange's latest win also wasn't secured until the end and easily could have gone into overtime if the kicking game had failed as it did against Rutgers. Ross Krautman, who entered the season with 16 straight made field goals, had his second blocked field goal of the season and had an extra point stuffed by the Scarlet Knights.
On Saturday night, Krautman returned to form. After twice building 17-point leads over struggling Tulane (2-4), the Orange managed a 37-34 win, the decisive points coming on Krautman's 21-yard field goal as time expired.
''We were fortunate to get out of there with a win,'' Marrone said.
Tulane scored on its first possession, and Syracuse responded by reeling off 24 straight points for a comfortable lead. The Orange were poised to add more when linebacker Dan Vaughan forced a fumble that middle linebacker Marquis Spruill recovered near midfield midway through the second quarter.
The opportunity vanished after quarterback Ryan Nassib overthrew an open Dorian Graham on third down and Syracuse punted.
''We have done OK on offense, but we're not even close to where any of us want to be,'' offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. ''A lot of it is because of the defenses we've faced. We've just got to keep pushing.''
A week after committing five turnovers against Rutgers, Syracuse didn't commit any against the Green Wave and still had to sweat it.
Blame some of it on a young defense that allowed big play after big play.
Syracuse registered 11 tackles for a loss against Rutgers and held the Scarlet Knights to 5 yards rushing on 38 attempts, forced four turnovers, had six pass breakups, and scored a touchdown.
Against Tulane, the Orange allowed 471 yards of total offense as quarterback Ryan Griffin passed for 320 yards and touchdowns of 58 and 60 yards to wideout Xavier Rush. Tailback Orleans Darkwa also scored on a 40-yard run.
Not a good omen with nothing but Big East games remaining on the schedule.
''Right now is time for a little bit of separation with midterms coming up,'' Marrone said. ''Now's a moment where we need to take a deep breath and really take a good, hard look at ourselves, what our expectations were before the season - where we're fulfilling those expectations and where we're not.
''We need to know who we are right now.''
That's easy. Jekyll and Hyde.
Which personality emerges will determine whether the Orange play in the postseason and have a chance for a second straight bowl triumph.