Syracuse Football: First Qua...Trimester Report Card

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Grading the Syracuse Orange through the first four games of the 2012 football season.

We're already 25% a third of the way through the season (WHOA I CAN'T DO MATH), so it's time to send Syracuse football home with its first quarter (trimester?) report card. Remember to get it signed by your parents, Syracuse football, or we're doing double special teams drills for a month!

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Quarterbacks :

Ryan Nassib - 118/178, 1,367 Yds, 10 TD, 5 Int, 36 Car, 109 Yds, 1 TD

Well, Quarterback. Ryan Nassib has been very, very good this season. He's putting up over 340 yards a game against solid defenses, and he's completing over 66% of this passes. Perhaps the biggest improvement Ryan's made over the years is his pocket presence. He's been sacked six times this season (three were against Minnesota), which is pretty solid through four games, and while a lot of that is due to mostly-improved line play, Ryan is much better about stepping up into the pocket and anticipating the rush.

Not everything is perfect in Nassib-land, however. Ryan still tends to gun almost every throw, and his deep ball is still not great, though it has improved from last year.

Grade: B+

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Running Backs :

Jerome Smith - 53 Car, 227 Yds (4.28 YPC), 5 Rec, 63 Yds

Prince-Tyson Gulley - 37 Car, 182 Yds (4.92 YPC), 2 TD, 16 Rec, 130 Yds, 1 TD

Ashton Broyld - 20 Car, 96 Yds (4.8 YPC), 1 TD, 7 Rec, 53 Yds

On average, Syracuse is putting up just under 150 yards per game on the ground, which is a good number to keep defenses honest, especially when we're tossing the ball all around the yard. Because of this, I really don't mind that we don't have an every down-type back, and I like how Smith, Gulley, and Broyld have complimentary skills.

The two major issues with these guys mirror those of the team as a whole - turnovers and inefficiency in the red zone. Each of them has had costly turnovers this year, with Smith's "that ball over there? That's not live, bro..." play in the Northwestern game being the most egregious. A lot of the red zone stuff is on the playcalling, and the offensive line deserves some culpability, but Jerome Smith is supposed to be a power back. There's no reason why he shouldn't be able to push for a yard or two near the goal line. It's weird to see him without a touchdown, but then again, having watched the games, it really isn't. I expect a lot of improvement here.

Grade: C+

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Wide Receivers :

Marcus Sales - 27 Rec, 382 Yds, 5 TD, 1 Car, 0 Yds

Alec Lemon - 16 Rec, 170 Yds

Jarrod West - 18 Rec, 267 Yds, TD

Jeremiah Kobena - 5 Rec, 101 Yds, 2 TD

Christopher Clark - 5 Rec, 52 Yds, TD

I expected good things from the receivers this year, but I think they've actually exceeded my expectations. Marcus Sales picked up right where he left off in late 2010, and has been pretty dominant. If he continues this pace, he might make some All-American lists. Alec Lemon looks to be back up to speed, and should find himself open a lot if teams focus on Sales. He's a good foil for Marcus. West has really taken a sizable step forward, and I think he'll take on the Lemon "catch a ton of balls and just pile up yardage" role next season. He's not as fast or as good a route runner as Alec, but he's a bigger target and he has a knack for gaining yards after the catch.

We still lack a true speed threat, which we may have had in Kobena before he went down to injury. Clark has looked solid in his limited minutes; I think the coaches are hesitant to play him against overly aggressive corners due to his size. The return of Adrian Flemming, who has always impressed me in practice, should provide Nassib another big threat near the endzone.

Grade: A-

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Tight Ends : Beckett Wales - 13 Rec, 112 Yds

David Stevens - 1 Rec, 5 Yds

Carl Cutler - 5 Rec, 32 Yds, 1 Car, 5 Yds

We definitely miss a lot of production from this spot. Wales has been solid, but isn't the safety blanket that Nick Provo was. David Stevens is just coming back from injury, so he should add something to the offense going forward. Carl Cutler has been a nice surprise, and a great story.

I think the team really could have used Ron Thompson this year, but it's important that they get that blood-flow issue under control. That is a major injury that could derail an entire career, so I'm nervous about him going forward.

Grade: C+

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Offensive Line :

I thought that Lou Alexander did a passable job at right tackle against Northwestern, but he got progressively worse each week. His run blocking was okay for the most part, but he got absolutely burned by most good speed rushers, and the penalties...oh, the penalties. The Justin Pugh effect, if he's as good as he has been over the last two seasons, can't be understated.

Ivan Foy and Rob Trudo have done a solid job at the right guard position, especially for young linemen. Like Alexander, they're much farther ahead in run blocking, which is to be expected from big, inexperienced guards.

Macky MacPherson is just a solid center. I was a big defender of Macky last year, but I acknowledge that he had problems against really strong nose guards. This season, Macky's really added a lot of strength and he's still a very intelligent center, and I haven't really seen him overmatched once. He's a huge asset to this line.

Zack Chibane had a worse junior year than sophomore year, which is very strange, but he's rebounded nicely this season.

In my opinion, Sean Hickey has been our best lineman this season, which is saying a lot for a first year starter who got plugged in at one of the most important positions in football - left tackle. Our line, even with Alexander's struggles, has been better than I can remember at any point during the Doug Marrone era, and with Pugh returning and Hickey moving to right tackle, it might actually become, dare I say it, a strength of the team.

Grade: B-

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Defensive Line :

Jay Bromley - 12 Tackles (.5 TFL), .5 Sacks

Deon Goggins - 11 Tackles (2 TFL), 1 Sack

Markus Pierce-Brewster - 11 Tackles (3 TFL), 1 FR

Brandon Sharpe - 10 Tackles (2 TFL), 1.5 Sacks

Micah Robinson - 10 Tackles (2 TFL), 1 Sack

Eric Crume - 3 Tackles

Zian Jones - 3 Tackles

Rob Welsh - 1 Tackle

I expected a bit more from our defensive line in terms of big plays, but they've been pretty solid overall. MPB has showed flashes, but hasn't quite put it all together yet. Brandon Sharpe has had a few solid games recently, and had one of his best against USC. I'd love to see the big interior linemen get more run, so we can get some rest for Goggins and Bromley, which would increase their production.

Grade: B-

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Linebackers :

Dyshawn Davis - 26 Tackles (4.5 TFL)

Siriki Diabate - 25 Tackles (1.5 TFL)

Marquis Spruill - 25 Tackles (3.5 TFL) 1.5 Sacks

Cameron Lynch - 9 Tackles (1.5 TFL), 1.5 Sacks

Dan Vaughan - 5 Tackles (1.5 TFL), 1.5 Sacks

Dom Anene - 1 Tackle

Lewellyn Coker - 1 Tackle

Echoing the comments about the defensive line, I think the linebackers need to get more pressure on the quarterback. If anything, Dyshawn Davis could get into the backfield last season, and while the 4.5 tackles for loss is nice, I want to see the defense become even more aggressive in its blitzing schemes. The biggest surprise here is Cameron Lynch's low tackle numbers. I thought he'd have a bigger impact here.

The front seven has done a good job shutting down most runs, but they've been susceptible to big plays on the ground. USC gashed us for a couple of them, and Stony Brook had one extremely long touchdown run. Keeping teams under four yards a game is nice, but it's all for naught if they go and break a long 70 yard touchdown that ends up being the difference later on.

Grade: C+

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Defensive Backs :

Shamarko Thomas - 24 Tackles (2 TFL), Sack, Int, FF

Ri'Shard Anderson - 23 Tackles (1 TFL)

Jeremi Wilkes - 15 Tackles, Int

Durell Eskridge - 12 Tackles (1 TFL)

Keon Lyn - 12 Tackles (1 TFL)

Brandon Reddish - 11 Tackles (1 TFL), Int

Ritchy Desir - 8 Tackles

Wayne Morgan - 4 Tackles

A starting cornerback shouldn't have three fewer tackles than the team leader, yet here we are. Ri'Shard Anderson just hasn't gotten the job done this season, and his high tackle numbers show that. Through the first three games, Anderson was the victim of five touchdowns (four in the USC game and the long bomb in the Stony Brook game). Meanwhile, Brandon Reddish has been very impressive on the other side of the field in coverage, and I've been impressed at his run stopping ability on the edge as well. I really hope we see more of Keon Lyn and even Wayne Morgan, and less of Anderson, going forward.

Shamarko's been doing his thing this year which is unsurprising. I think Durell Eskridge is primed to fill those big shoes next season.

Much like on the offensive line, it just takes one poor performance in the secondary to drag everything down, and that's been Anderson so far this year. He passes the look test at corner, but he gets lost in coverage entirely too often, and unless he rapidly improves, I'd love to see someone else in that spot.

Grade: C+

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Special Teams :

And here's where the GPA takes a hit. Our punting has just been confusing all year, especially with using two punters who's skill sets don't seem radically different. Our punt coverage has gotten better since the Northwestern debacle, but it still leaves a ton to be desired. On the flip side, we can't seem to return a punt for our lives. Kickoff returns have been a bit better, but we've had a few comical miscues there, and near misses. The only unit that's done a nice job almost all year has been the kickoff team, and a lot of that is thanks to Ryan Norton. Ross Krautman isn't having his best year, but I have faith that he'll get better as the year goes on.

Grade: D

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Coaching :

I've touched on Special Teams, and a lot of the punting issues stem from our decisions as to when to go for it. I'm not a huge fan of just scrapping the punting game all together, but once we've crossed the fifty if it's a manageable situation we might as well go for it since the punts have been maddeningly inconsistent, and a 20 or 30 yard net punt isn't exactly worth it. We're also 4-6 on 4th down this year, so there's that...

Offensively, you all know how I feel about it. Overall, we're way better than we have been, we just need to figure out the red zone stuff. Hopefully the bye week allowed the coaches to work through those issues.

Defensively is a bit more confusing. I love Scott Shafer, overall. Last year was rough because of how young the defense was, but 2009 and 2010 were great. Now that we have a bit more depth and speed, even without players like Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith, I'd love to see a return to the super-aggressive defensive mentality we had that year. We saw a lot of it during Northwestern, but then down the stretch we went into prevent mode and we all know how that worked out.

Grade: C

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First Quarter GPA: 2.46

That sounds about right. The team has done a lot of things well, but there are just a few areas and positions that have brought everything else down. With the return of Justin Pugh, (hopefully) better success in the red zone, and the fact that special teams can't possibly get much worse, I expect that the Orange will hit the books hard in quarter trimester-two, and bring this up.

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