Syracuse Football Roundtable, Week of September 17 (Minnesota)

September 15, 2012; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib (12) runs out of the pocket during the second half of a game against the Stony Brook Seawolves at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE

Each week, we'll be holding a roundtable discussion with TNIAAM's football "experts" to get a read on the program's most pressing issues on- and off-the-field. Have differing opinions? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Biggest positive takeaway from the Stony Brook game?

Jeremy Ryan: The passing offense is still clicking, with Ryan Nassib and Marcus Sales really on a roll and Lemon rounding back into form. Throw in the three-headed monster of Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley, and Ashton Broyld in the backfield and this could end up as one of the all-time great statistical offensive seasons.

Matt McClusky: The obvious is that Syracuse finally won a game! But outside of the W, and ignoring how difficult the game against the FCS Seawolves actually was, I'll go with the continued development of Ryan Nassib. Nassib looks like a real QB who, save for a couple of missed field goals and strange goal line calls, probably would have sat out the fourth quarter.

Andy Pregler: Best thing from the Stony Brook game was Ryan Nassib in the second half. I'm really starting to think he can get national attention for how well he is passing the ball, seeing the field, and running this no huddle offense. He's spreading the ball around and the touch throws look better every game.

Chris Daughtrey: I have to go with Nassib and Sales. The two of them have great chemistry and the ability to single handedly keep the Orange in games. It's exactly what happened against the Sea Wolves. Nassib kept the game close while the defense struggled in the first half. Then, when the D put the clamps on in the second, Nassib and Sales put the game away. If they have a little more consistent help, the Orange are 2-1 at least and maybe even 3-0 (unlikely, but still). I like the consistency. I like the rapport. I feel like, no matter what else happens, those two are going to do their part.

Dan Lyons: The halftime adjustments. I guess this could be a running theme for the season thus far. Stony Brook absolutely controlled the first half in almost every way, which was very disconcerting, but the second half was all Syracuse - the scoreboard doesn't accurately depict how much SU dominated the game after intermission. SU outgained SBU 307-24 in the second half, and could have put up over 40 points had they scored on both of the drives that stalled near the endzone. I wish the team would start games better, and they are a bit of an enigma in that regard, but they finish very well.

Sean Keeley: Once again, this Syracuse team proved it has no quit in it and, it seems, they don't get flustered in the second half. They came back from 22-down against Northwestern. They held strong for as long as possible against USC. And they didn't freak out when down at halftime to Stony Brook, eventually sorting themselves out and winning the game. As much as this team frustrates me and has issues, I do trust in them to always keep fighting and doing what they have to do.

John Cassillo: Seeing Syracuse football on SportsCenter's Top Plays! (kidding -- that was actually terrible) Realistically, though, the best part was the offense's ability to completely flip a switch in the second half and execute. Never felt as if we had that ability in the past. But now, unsure if there's any lead we can't make an opponent sweat out.

Biggest negative takeaway from the Stony Brook game?

JR: All facets of special teams are a mess right now. Punting, field goals, coverage, returns... you name it. Is it possible that taking on the dual roles of head coach and special teams coach is too much for one person?

MM: The defensive line was, for the most part, blown up by the Seawolves bigs up front. Stony Brook ran a ball control offense to perfection and they were able to do so because Syracuse couldn't stay in their gaps and couldn't get to the ball carriers. It was jarring to see how easy Stony Brook moved the ball in that first half.

AP: It has to be Syracuse's first half showing. I understand some teams have a natural tendency to be better in one half compared to another, but at this rate Louisville or Pitt could hang 40 on us by the half. The defense needs to make quicker adjustments and the offense cannot be so bland and slow. I'd love to see us storm out of the gates against Minnesota, but that won't happen.

CD: Run. Defense. Look, I recognize that Maysonet and Coker aren't chopped liver. Both are FBS quality backs, and good ones. But they were certainly helped by the fact that they had wide open holes to run through in the first half. And it's not just one thing the Orange are doing wrong. Against Stony Brook, it was a combination of bad scheme, poor execution and overconfidence. But I'll tell you what. If they play like that when Ray Graham comes to town, the Orange don't have a chance.

DL: In the same vein, the fact that we came out so flat once again is disconcerting. I get the whole "it's hard to motivate teams for FCS opponents" thing. It's not a great excuse but it is very true. Look at the story that has come out about the Michigan team against Appalachian State. I don't think anything like that is the case with SU, but coming off a game against USC in a massive NFL stadium, I can understand why going back to the ole' Carrier Dome against something called "the Seawolves" would be hard to get amped up for. However, this is not an excuse for the Northwestern game, and won't be for any game left on our schedule, especially at Minnesota, which could have huge bowl ramifications.

SK: Specific issues that have plagued Doug Marrone football teams include shaky special teams play, dumb penalties and strange mental mistakes. All of those things were on display against the Seawolves and show no signs of stopping. At this point I almost feel like you have to just assume and expect that they will continue. It's really weird because the sense I get of Doug Marrone is that he would do everything in his power to stop these kinds of things and yet...here we are.

JC: As a lump sum, let's just go with tackling. it's the reason we get beat on bubble screens, the reason we do a poor job on special teams coverage and the reason we can't defend the run in any way, shape or form. It's simple, guys. Go low, wrap up, drive down. Anyone who played football when they were as young as seven could tell you that. Why is this a foreign concept for D-I athletes?

Do you believe Syracuse is the best 1-2 team in the nation?

JR: That's hard to say. They can hang with one of the best teams in the nation one week and then struggle against an FCS school the next. I think 1-2 Arkansas, which is a hot mess right now, probably still has a better squad than SU.

MM: In a word, no. I think, like a lot of other SU observers, that this team may have been the best 0-2 in the nation, but after seeing the struggles with Stony Brook, it's difficult to remember the near win over Northwestern or the comeback against USC. Clearly, this Orange team has a LOT to work on. Which actually may end up being the biggest positive that comes from the game. Despite being 0-for the season, the Orange were feeling good about playing well. Now, the players should be a little embarrassed by the close game with an FCS opponent, which may lead to more concentration throughout the season.

AP: 1-2 is a lot different than best 0-2 team. There are a lot of one win teams out there that are dangerous, and I'd say we are a lot like Penn State right now: looking to fill huge gaps in our play week to week but always hanging around.

CD: I'll admit to not watching enough college football to be able to properly answer the question. I watch Syracuse and that's pretty much it. I can say, though, that they're not a bad 1-2 team and they're not as bad as their defensive statistics might make them out to be. Of course USC is gonna drop 42 on them. And against N'Western, if you take away the punt return TD and the fumble return TD, the Orange not only win, but also hold the Wildcats to a respectable tally. I'm gonna pull a Wilbon and push on this one. Syracuse has the ability to win every game left on the schedule. They also have the potential to lose all of them. Until we see some more consistent play, it's hard to say which it will be.

DL: Probably not. UNC is about to have the hammer dropped on them (maybe?) but they have some talent. Pitt's a total anomaly. Penn State looked pretty miserable in the first two weeks but just stomped Navy. Arkansas is reeling but they were still a preseason favorite and have crazy ESSEESEE SPEED. Auburn is Auburn, and Vanderbilt looks better than their record. So I guess my answer is, maybe? Probably not? We could be? Does it matter? I'd rather be the worst 2-1 team.

SK: The whole Best X-X Team in the Nation thing only really makes sense when you're 0-fer. After that, it gets a little silly. I don't have the time to track down the rest of the 1-2 teams out there but I will say this...very few teams are as battle-tested as Syracuse. Two nationally-ranked opponents, both of whom can now be considered BCS Bowl contenders, and the FCS team we played was among the best.

JC: No. But conversely, I believe we could've also been the worst 3-0 team (not a bad consolation prize, of course). For better or worse, there's a reason we've lost two games out of three -- some would even say there are several reasons. Of course there are plenty of 1-2 teams that couldn't keep pace with us. But there's also plenty that certainly could, too

Which Golden Gopher player has you most concerned?

JR: Max Shortell. From what I've read, the Gophers' backup quarterback is considered a better passer than their starter. MarQueis Gray creates offense with his legs, while Shortell is more of a traditional drop back QB. This could radically change the complexion of the Minnesota offense, and SU only has about a half a game's worth of film to study.

MM: It's not so much the players as much as the atmosphere. TCF Bank Stadium looks like it could be intimidating, especially at night in front of a (expected) decent crowd. While I think SU is probably much better than the Gophers, I worry because, in the past, the Orange lose these types of games. (Even Donovan McNabb couldn't avoid the pitfall during his time leading the Orange.)

AP: Hmmm.... I know it's a cop out but seen so many unknown backup QB's come in and dominate teams I follow. Max Shortell isn't anything special, but I would have no absolutely no qualms saying he will have a career day against Syracuse because our defense is that inconsistent and our luck is that bad.

CD: It would have been MarQueis Grey. That kind of dual-threat QB has all the makings of an Orange killer. But since he's going to be out, I'll go with running back Donnell Kirkwood. Syracuse has let anybody and everybody run roughshod all over them thus far. Minny's back up quarterback Max Shortell is much more of a pocket passer, so if Kirkwood can get going, that's going to open up the passing game for the Gophers. The Orange have yet to show they can stop both the run and the pass. Their saving grace against Stony Brook was that their QB was terrible. If Kirkwood and Shortell both have it going, it could be a long day for the Orange. Nassib might have to put up another 500 yards.

DL: To be honest, this Max Shortell guy. I've seen about one and a half Minnesota games this season so far (I'm a college football junkie), and despite our struggles in the past with mobile QBs, MarQueis Gray is like a poor man's BJ Daniels. Every bad tendency Daniels has, Gray seems to have to a higher degree. Plus, I think we have a lot more defensive speed this season compared to last, so mobile QBs don't scare me as much. Also, less time to prepare always seems to hurt our coaches, and we now have less film to study on the upcoming QB.

SK: QB Max Shortell actually has me more concerned than if MarQueis Gray were in there. He's more likely to air it out against our secondary. That said, I suppose he is the back-up so I'm probably making him out to be better in my head than he is in reality, but, I have concerns.

JC: It's Shortell, but only because I'm unsure what he brings to the table (beyond better passing). The Gophers' rushing game was a force, until Gray went down. How many of Kirkwood's yards were due to the threat of Gray lurking? I think this will be an offense in a steep transition, but that process ultimately comes down to Shortell's skill set.

Who (other than Ryan Nassib) is the Orange's X-factor player against Minnesota?

JR: Ashton Broyld. If he continues to get touches he is going to explode for a big game very soon. Will it be Saturday?

MM: Whoever is the guy to step up at running back, this would be a great game to do so! Outside of RB, I'll go with the front seven of the defense. That unit was exposed against Stony Brook in the first half. The second half was a different story, with credit going to defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, but the defense can't play the way it did in the first two quarters last Saturday if it expects to beat a Big Ten team on the road (even a Big Ten team like Minnesota).

AP: I really want Shamarko Thomas to lay a huge hit on a Gopher early in the game and let that set the tone. We haven't heard a lot of big plays from the defense this year and a couple of picks or Dyshawn Davis caliber big hits would be a nice injection into the D. Thomas is the one guy who can follow through on that by sheer will if nothing else.

CD: I'm gonna cheat a little and go with the linebacking corps as a whole. I think run defense is going to be critical in this game and the LBs are the key. They need to get back to the fundamentals; shed a blocker, make contact and wrap up. I know it's easier said than done, but the Minnesota coaches have seen the tape. They think that they're going to be able to run all over the Orange. The front seven need to take that as a personal affront and start knockigng dudes down.

DL: I'm gonna go with Marquis Spruill. Without Gray, Minnesota's production on the ground drops significantly. Gray is second on the team with 234 rushing yards, leads the team in rushing average (5.2), and leads in rushing TDs (2). Even though Shortell may actually be a better passing QB, Gray helps round out their attack. I think Spruill will help shut down a one-dimensional running game, and force Minnesota to try to beat SU through the air, and that may be a tall task with a relatively unproven signal caller.

SK: It seems like every week, Ashton Broyld gets a little stronger, a little faster and a little smarter on the football field. One of these days he's going to have a crazy breakout game where our jokes about him winning the Heisman become a little less jokey. Perhaps this is that game. He's got a taste for touchdowns...he's gonna want seven now.

JC: Marcus Sales. Whether he's catching the ball or not, he's going to impact the passing game. Defenders fear the deep ball, so he gets doubled, and then the flat's open. Or Jarrod West is open on the opposite side of the field. Then, when they focus their attention elsewhere, Nassib hits him for yet another long touchdown. Unsure how much we'll need to score to win Saturday, but Sales will be involved, regardless.

John Cassillo authors Atlantic Coast Convos, which chronicles every aspect of ACC (plus Syracuse & Pittsburgh) football. Check out the blog, and follow him on Twitter: @JohnCassillo

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