My first Syracuse Orange football game was an experience. Syracuse took on Wake Forest and, as a freshman, I was having a great time meeting new people and cheering on the Orange. Then Cuse went down 15 in the fourth quarter and almost half of the student section left. From then on, things happened that made me feel like Syracuse football was going to have a magic run thanks to that comeback capped by a Van Chew last minute grab.
This year's freshman class almost had that same moment. This was by far the best student section I've seen at a football game in my short career at SU (at least in the first half) and for those that weathered the 35-13 deficit, they were treated to another magical experience. The freshman were the energy as they all wore their Class of '16 Army Shirts and filled in the lower levels. As the Orange started to fall behind, the freshies started an "I believe that we can win" chant that legitimately was inspiring. Then the fumble happened.
I can honestly say no one around me thought we were coming back at that point. This game just felt like it was slipping out of control too fast and even though everyone felt like Syracuse had outplayed Northwestern, the scoreboard showed an entirely different story. The students that left were much like the students that left during last year's nooner comeback: a) hungover b) older students already jaded by enough Syracuse failures from the past years, and/or c) freshman who don't get that this isn't NCAA 13.
Once the comeback started, the small handful of older students in the crowd felt the eerie similarities to last year's opener: opposing quarterback out, defense starting to take control, 3rd downs becoming unbearably loud, the offense taking shots downfield and being successful. When Kobena made his huge 50-yard grab, I thought we were winning the game. Cuse had all the momentum and the defense was turning it on. Fourteen more unanswered points later and I was dead sure. The crowd was louder than it was at the beginning of the game, and I made the mistake of texting my friend Whitney about the game. We met during the Wake game last year and she convinced me to stay until the end. Now out in LA, I told her about the comeback and jinxed it. I'm sorry #OrangeNation.
Cuse lost because they shot themselves in the foot too often, too early in the game. It stung to watch Northwestern drive the ball so easily at the end and even with the bad roughing call, the feeling in the dome was that the game was over in spirit. It was a rough loss to swallow as a football fan, let alone as your first game in the Dome. At least Stony Brooke is next. More technical observations below (mostly repeated things) and things won't get better with USC coming into
After going through the post game comments thread, I agree with the general consensus of Ryan Nassib. He did everything he could to win this game. I really like how comfortable he looks in the no huddle and he seems to really like the option to run and pick up 4-5 yards a pop. I didn't like how he still can't consistently throw the ball from 15+ yards. The long bombs were under-thrown and I'm pretty sure there wasn't really a medium range pass (15-25 yards) completed where Nassib threw from all the yardage.
The wide receiving core looks like a strong spot for me. Marcus Sales and Jeremiah Kobena look like very good talents that Nassib will love to use down the field this season. Sales looked phenomenal and when Lemon returns, that's a great one two punch. Adrian Flemming was missed as Jerrod West and Christopher Clark didn't have the impact I thought they would. Our 1-2-3 once Lemon is back will only help Nassib put up more numbers.
Defensively, the front seven is better than I thought while the secondary is worse. Don't get me wrong, the front seven didn't look present when Venric Mark and Kain Colter found gaps, but overall, limiting Northwestern to 124 yards on the ground isn't too shabby. Pass coverage wise, I have no idea what the strategy is. The Orange didn't look great in man or zone and the Wildcats found ways to create mismatches when the Orange tried to man up after their zone was shredded. USC is going to be rough.
Finally, just to reiterate what everyone else seems to be saying, I think this team talent wise is better on offense and can grow to be better on defense. Cuse outplayed Northwestern, but turnovers and special teams handed the game to them in the first half. Hackett needs to coach like he's down 20 all the time because that offense looked unstoppable (gross exaggeration but it was very good). This should have been a W. Instead it's a harsh learning experience that needs to translate into wins against Stony Brook and Minnesota by the time conference play starts.