Needless to say, I was pretty excited after Syracuse's win over West Virginia. For days after the game, all I saw/heard on the internet and on campus was about how our team had "turned the corner". I bought in. We were done with losing games that we aren't supposed to. We're going to contend for championships. When we do lose, it will be to quality teams, and we'll be in the game. Nothing that I saw from that game, a dominant 26-point win over the No. 11/15 team in the nation, gave me any pause when thinking about whether or not we had actually made that turn.
The first person who made me stop and consider that we may not beat Louisville the following weekend was Doug Marrone. Following that performance against WVU, I decided to excuse myself from a lecture and attend Marrone's weekly luncheon at PJ Dorsey's in Armory Square. It was obvious that Doug was excited about the win, but I doubt he would have bought in to the "turn the corner" hype after one game. Doug noted at the luncheon, as well as a number of other places during the week, that Louisville was a much worse match-up for us than West Virginia stylistically. WVU's 3-3-5 defense played into our offense gameplan. Louisville's is far closer to what Rutgers did to us, a physical 4-3 base defense that sends a lot of pressure, and Charlie Strong's team does it better.
Doug made his concerns loud and clear as soon as game week began.
We should have listened...
The most alarming thing about the game for me personally was the personal fouls. I've never seen a Syracuse team look so undisciplined in one game. I'm used to the occasional (okay, pretty frequent) fouls from Michael Hay, Philip Thomas, and Brandon Sharpe, but the sheer number of really awful penalties that we had in the Louisville game was sickening.
The second thing that really hurt us was our inability to connect on any deep passes. Louisville just stacked the box and dared us to beat them over the top. While I'm a big Ryan Nassib fan, he really doesn't have good touch on the long ball, and he struggles to hit his receivers on them. He throws the deep pass a lot like he throws any other, it's very flat, and while it's hard to intercept for the defense, our receivers don't have much of a chance either. We haven't done too much damage with the deep ball since Mike Williams was still at SU, so Louisville had no reason to fear it. If Nassib could connect on even one or two of the deep passes, and he had his chances, Van Chew's stop-and-go route was a thing of beauty, Louisville would have been forced to back off some of their pressure, and the mid-range passing game that tore apart the Mountaineer defense would have opened up.
I really didn't have a huge issue with the play calling, because so much of our failure was rooted in a pure inability to execute plays. We took shots deep, we added new wrinkles (The Express), and we attempted to find something that worked, but our execution was so bad that there was little hope. The one thing I would have liked to see was more screens to try and exploit the overly aggressive Cardinals defense, and to get Nassib back in a rhythm.
I thought Bailey had a decent game for what he was given to work with. Our offensive line had its worst game in a long time, and was absolutely flummoxed by all of the blitzing schemes that were thrown at it, much like WVU's was by Shafer's defense the week before. I really liked seeing
the wildcat the stallion "The Express" (I think the biggest positive I took from this game was the name change). We ran it really well.
After we gave up the early two touchdowns, I thought the defense held really well. Our biggest issue here continues to be blown coverages, which is unfortunate since we have some veteran players out there. For most of the game though, the defense shut Louisville down, which is even more impressive considering how our offense struggled to give them any rest. However, they struggle with consistency like the rest of our team does. We can't give up early scores and 40+ yard pass plays and then expect to come from behind every week.
Give credit to Louisville. After losses to (future Big East members? Tee-hee) FIU and Marshall, I think most of us marked the Cardinals down as an easy win, despite the fact that they had just beaten up on a Rutgers team that we had previously lost to. They are a very young team, and they were able to overcome this fact much better than we did. Also, Charlie Strong is a great coach, they'll be lucky to hold on to him much longer, especially when a few SEC jobs open up.
I'm heading to Connecticut tomorrow for Saturday's game. Unfortunately, UConn plays much closer to the defensive style of Rutgers or Louisville than West Virginia. Fortunately, they aren't nearly as talented, and I'm not sure if they've even fielded an offense at any point this season. UConn should be the easiest game left on the schedule and we should head to 'The Rent' and give them the business, but as we've learned oh so clearly over the last few seasons, there are no good assumptions in the Big East football conference. We've gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do...