Yesterday's Blue v. White Game, the first real Spring "Game" that Syracuse has had in the Doug Marrone era, was an overwhelmingly positive step for the football program. While scoring may have been slow, more credit has to be given to the Blue and White defenses than blame to the respective offenses; our defense has a bit more quality depth and it showed. Both offenses did have some positives to take away from the game, with the White team pulling out the win on the backs of starting quarterback Ryan Nassib and running back Antwon Bailey, who had a huge game.
If there is one concern to be had, it is probably on special teams. Ryan Lichtenstein did not look good at all, only hitting two of his four field goals, and starter Ross Krautman missed horribly on his one attempt. Shane Raupers was as inconsistent as he has been all spring, and this was without any live pass rush. As I tweeted during the game, incoming freshman Jonathan Fisher might be the most important recruit we have coming in this summer; the void left by Rob Long grows larger with every shanked Raupers punt.
Overall, it was a very good day for Syracuse football, and I think that the over 4,000 fans in attendance were encouraged for the most part. I'll do the normal position breakdowns after the jump...
Quarterbacks - Ryan Nassib had a shaky start with the pick six thrown to Kevyn Scott, but settled in after that drive, and had a very good day for the White team, completing 15 of 24 passes for 227 yards. Some of Nassib's best throws weren't even caught, including a beautiful touch pass to the endzone intended for Alec Lemon, who mis-timed the ball and slowed down, causing it to sail high. Nassib looked incredibly comfortable, even against a very strong Blue pass-rush. Nassib's White team backup, Jonny Miller, did not fare as well. He only had two drives, and through one pass which was well short of his intended target.
Charley Loeb had a promising day for the Blue squad, and had his team in a position to tie in the waning minutes of the game. Loeb started slow, and his stat line does not look great (11-24, 133 yards), but he looked more poised as the game progressed. John Kinder got a few snaps as well, although like Miller, he was most relegated to handing the ball off, although he did get to show his speed on a few scrambles.
Running Backs - Antwon Bailey had a tremendous day, and was definitely the game's MVP. His performance did a lot to prove anyone who doubts his abilities as an every-down back wrong. He picked up 118 yards on 20 carries, as well as the winning touchdown. He also caught three passes for 16 yards. Bailey did most of his damage off tackle, as expected, and that is where Syracuse's running game is going to live or die this season. This is even more impressive considering that the White team did not have the starting offensive tackles.
The Blue backs did not have the game I thought that they would, with Prince-Tyson Gulley getting held to 31 yards on 13 carries. Part of this is due to the incredible play of the white linebackers, especially Dan Vaughan and Lewellyn Coker who combined for nine tackles. Steve Rene also got a number of carries but did not get anything going.
Wide Receivers - Aside from the misplayed ball in the endzone, Alec Lemon had a very nice day, with 3 receptions for 65 yards. Jarrod West had a nice day as well, with 3 receptions for 43 yards, and newcomer Jeremiah Kobena provided the day's highlight on the second to last play of the first half, hauling in a 53 yard bomb on a perfect pass from Nassib, before getting brought down in the red-zone to set up a field goal. He has elite speed, and I'm excited to see Marrone and Nate Hackett exploit it this year.
Dorian Graham was probably our best receiver on the day, especially down the stretch where he hauled in 3 catches for 57 yards and looked to steal the game and MVP honors from Bailey. He dropped a few balls early, which is just going to come with the territory with Dorian, but when he can haul one in, it will be tough for defenses to catch him. Marcus Sales also had a solid day with 3 receptions for 47 yards. Surprisingly, Adrian Flemming was suited up but did not play. He had a great spring, so I hope everything is okay on that end.
Tight Ends - Nick Provo very well may lead our team in receptions this year if he can stay healthy. He catches everything thrown at him, and was incredibly productive with a team high 5 receptions for 50 yards. David Stevens also had a decent day catching the ball, with two catches for 13 yards. Unfortunately, it seemed like all of the day's biggest hits were laid on Stevens.
Offensive Line - It is tough to split up a unit that is used to working together, especially on the offensive line, and it showed yesterday. Both lines struggled with their respective opponents on the defensive line, although the white line did fare better in run blocking, allowing Bailey to rack up over 100 yards on the ground. Both starting quarterbacks were sacked twice.
Defensive Line - On the opposite end of the spectrum in the trenches, the defensive lines looked very strong. Jay Bromley was a force to be reckoned with all day long, and was a major reason why the blue running backs were largely stymied. Chandler Jones did what he does best all game long, which is get to the quarterback. Brandon Sharpe also looked very strong, recording a sack on the day.
Linebackers - Both of these units were pretty tremendous, especially the White corps. Dan Vaughan had a huge day, with four tackles (2 TFL), a sack, and two deflections, one of which sealed the win for the White team. Vaughan is one of the big surprises of the spring, and really brings a strong veteran presence to the unit. Vaughan has been a pretty unheralded player so far in his SU career, and if he can produce like he did yesterday, our linebackers could very well become a strength of this team, even after losing impactful players like Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue to graduation. Lewellyn Coker also had a nice game, compiling five tackles. The Blue squad was not without it's standouts at linebacker. Marquis Spruill had a very solid game at middle linebacker, and Siriki Diabate made four tackles.
Defensive Backs - The DBs probably stood out more on the stat sheet than any other unit on this team. On the White side, Jaston George and Keon Lyn were all over the field, and seemed to be in on every play, recording six tackles a piece. On the Blue side, Ri'Shard Anderson had a very nice day with six solo tackles of his own. Phillip Thomas and Jeremi Wilkes, who played on both teams, also had very nice games, with Thomas recording six tackles. Kevyn Scott was the standout, making four tackles as well as picking off a screen pass from Ryan Nassib and taking it all the way home for a touchdown to give the Blue squad an early lead.
Yesterday's spring football game was definitely a step in the right direction for Marrone's team as he enters his third season as head coach. Having an actual game to watch was definitely refreshing, and I expect the team to have a great season this year.