Football, in my opinion, is the most team team sport out there, save for maybe hockey. At any given point, eleven players are all doing their own thing. Linemen pulling and blocking, receivers breaking free, running backs looking for the hole, quarterbacks improvising, linebackers reading and reacting. Constant motion, all attempting something different to achieve the same goal.
For every superstar QB or running back there are at least five Bigs leading the way. For every lock-down DB there is usually a couple speedy defensive ends wreaking terror on everyone in their way. Football isn't about one man, it's about every man. All doing their job.
But, while we all consider a sport like basketball where one player can take over and change the outcome of any game, football teams do need stars. At least one player, on offense or defense, who can rise above the rest and do a little some extra for their team. For Syracuse fans trying to conjure up the last superstar to wear Orange, it may be Donovan McNabb.
McNabb took over at quarterback when then head coach Paul Pasqualoni, coming off back-to-back bowl-less years, was starting to lose his stranglehold on the program (assuming he ever had a grip on it in the first place). There was a lot of talent on the roster, but No. 5 made everyone better and McNabb made the Orange program better. Every good team has someone it relies on a little more, McNabb was that guy.
There have other talented Orange men in the last decade plus, the Jones boys, Delone Carter, Mike "No One Knows What To Make Of Me" Williams, but Syracuse hasn't had a superstar since McNabb left town. Which is probably a big reason the program fell off the map -- Pasqualoni didn't mow the yard or spruce up the house, Robinson took a flamethrower to the whole thing, and Marrone is trying to rebuild. But rebuilding is usually easier with....a star. And while the jury is still out, I think Syracuse may be close to finding its next star.
I give you, Jerome Smith.
Consider: 133, 127, 116, and 144. Those are the rushing yards Smith has put up in the last four games. That's 520 yards on the ground in just the last four games alone. That averages out to 130 yards rushing per game! Of course, the Orange offensive line, much maligned in September, appears healthy and is quickly becoming a legit asset for Marrone. Again, football is a team sport.
But, look at how Smith is getting his yards. Yes, he is finding the holes opened by the line, but he's also bulldozing defenders over, making jukes and shifts, and showing a little speed, too. And for a guy weighing an alleged 215 pounds and standing at, allegedly, five foot 11, his running style is that much more impressive. He's both power and a little finesse.
So how is Smith making the Orange better as a team? Well, the obvious, Syracuse is 3-1 in the last four games -- the four games Smith has had his coming-out party as a star. Plus, the one component Nathaniel Hackett's "explosive" offense needed in the first half of the season was a consistent running back. Too much was being placed on Ryan Nassib and the pass game. Opponents were able to, after adjusting throughout the game, shut the Orange down because its offense was to one dimensional.
Since Smith's emergence? Nassib has thrown 10 touchdown passes to ZERO interceptions -- a run game opens up the pass game. The Orange offense hasn't scored less than 35 points in any of the last four contests, with receiver Alec Lemon becoming a bonafided threat. And think of the impact of Smith's runs on the Orange defense? Longer, sustained drives by Nassib and company lead to longer breaks on the sideline for Jay Bromley and the other Orange defenders.
Of course you could say Nassib's development qualifies him to be the team's "star." Which is a totally legit argument. Nassib is getting NFL love right now, could you imagine that two years ago? Last year? The defense also has its share of key players that could be considered, for Syracuse's purposes, stars. But I'll go with Smith, who came along at a time when SU's season was all but over.
A month ago Marrone's seat was a little warm and fans were starting to look ahead to 2013 and the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Now? Well, 5-5 isn't exactly something to brag about to your SEC-loving friend, but the Orange have turned things around and made this season interesting. I don't think it's a coincidence that Smith's rise coincides with Syracuse's rise from the grease fire.
Football is a team sport, but every team needs that one player to make it better. The Orange may have finally found its star in Smith -- an ordinary name with pretty extraordinary skills.
As for beating Missouri, Syracuse will have handle the Tigers' James Franklin and Kendial Lawrence and the atmosphere of the road on a Saturday night. Franklin, the junior quarterback, has been up and down this season. Mostly down. But Franklin has talent, throwing for four scores in Missouri's comeback win at Tennessee last weekend. He's nowhere near the talent that SU saw in Teddy Bridgewater, but Franklin may have found some mojo against the Vols.
On the other hand, Lawrence rushed for 153 last Saturday, including a huge 77 yard scamper for a score. Just like every other Tiger on the roster, Lawrence has been very inconsistent, but he posses enough talent (819 yards on the ground for the season) to be a problem for the Orange.
Both Franklin and Lawrence will be players to key on for Syracuse, and the usual rowdy road will be just as big an issue. Remember, while the Tigers have lost 5 times this year, four of those Ls have come to ranked opponents (Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida). The other loss was a tough home loss to bowl-bound Vanderbilt. So don't think this is going to be an easy game -- especially with it being on a Saturday night in Columbia.
Hopefully Smith provides big, clock killing gainers on the ground and the Orange defense smothers Franklin and company like it did to Bridgewater and the Cardinals. The Orange will need to shorten the game, which means Smith will have to continue running like a rising star.