So that game was something, let's jump right into it.
Leading into the game, I thought the atmosphere at the Dome was very good. Out of the 40,833 announced, we probably had about 37-38k there. Not great, but it could definitely be worse. However, we had what I've heard was the biggest student turnout in at least 10 years, if not of all time. Heading into the game, I predicted that we'd have about as many as we had for Minnesota in 09, where we filled our main sections in 102 and 103 on the Syracuse sideline, as well as the section to the left of the band. Last night, we overflowed and completely filled the section to the right of the band, and had 3 sections of students in the upper deck. Not only did the students come out, but they were loud, and involved. Yesterday, we had almost our entire section singing the alma mater and the fight song, which is probably not something that has ever been the case in year's past.
Did people leave early? Yes, and the fact that they were filing out in the third quarter down 12 is awful. However, a lot of the blame is going on the students and that is unfair. In the video below, from OT last night, you can see that our two major sections in 102 and 103 were still almost completely full. The two endzone sections got cut in half, but they didn't completely empty out, and that doesn't even consider the students in the 300s who stuck around. Even after the mass-exodus, there were far more students than any point of any other game since I've been a student at SU.
Syracuse vs Wake Forest overtime ending (via chichiis1337)
Anyway, on to the game itself:
Ryan Nassib was very impressive, especially once we opened up the offense down the stretch. Last year, he got noticeably nerviness, especially against a strong pass-rush. This year, he's stepping into the pocket, he's rolling out and avoiding sacks, and he's finding open receivers. I thought the key play for him was the roll-out 21-yard completion to Alec Lemon along the sideline. After he made that pass, I'm not sure if he threw another incompletion, he was absolutely dialed in. The biggest knock on Nassib last year, statistically, was his 56% completion percentage. Yesterday, he was 20-28 (and two of those were bad drops). Some of the throws he made in the fourth quarter were absolutely unbelievable, especially the two to Van Chew in the endzone. His best play was somehow avoiding a sack and finding Harris in the endzone for the TD that cut the Wake lead to 8. We're in good hands with Ryan this year.
Antwon Bailey's performance reminded me a lot of the 2008 Notre Dame game, except he played both Curtis Brinkley and himself. In the first half, he couldn't get anything going, but in the second half, he was getting 5 yards out of nothing. Bailey is a tremendous runner against defenses that have been worn down a bit, and that was definitely the case last night. I was very impressed that he still had the legs in the fourth quarter to break that 53 yard run.
If I learned anything about the team, besides that we are mentally pretty tough, it was that we are well conditioned. Wake was struggling by the 4th quarter and we were just hitting our stride.
Adam Harris had a really nice game. Last year, him getting the ball was cringe-worthy. Last night, he was a nice change of pace when he got the ball, he blocked really well, and he made an awesome catch in the endzone on that TD.
I don't think I need to say much about Van Chew. Those catches were ridiculous. I still don't think that he had possession on the last catch in the endzone, but as someone said on Twitter last night, thank god for ESPN3 because there was no good angle to overturn the call.
Alec Lemon looked really good. He caught everything aside from the two plays where he got mugged and drew the PI calls.
Nick Provo made up for that awful drop early on with the really nice play on the touchdown. He did a great job of using his blocks to make it to the endzone, and definitely seems to be a bit faster than I remember.
David Stevens is going to be a big factor this season. He showed good hands yesterday, and was a monster blocking downfield. He and Provo can both be real mismatches for defenses this year.
Our offensive line really struggled in the first half. We couldn't open up anything against the Wake line. Macky didn't fare too well early on against Nikita Whitlock, but as the game wore on he got some guard help, and was okay. In the second half, our offensive line really started to wear down the Wake defense, and that's when Bailey started to do most of his damage. Our O-Line seemed to do really well in the hurry-up offense as well.
Defensive impressions after the jump...
I was a bit underwhelmed by our defensive ends. Chandler had the nice sack at the end of the game and Torrey Ball also had a big play, but overall they were a bit quiet. It didn't help that the referees just refused to call holding against Wake Forest, and probably cost Chandler and Deon Goggins a sack each, but we know all about ACC refs...
On the other hand, the defensive tackles all impressed me, especially in the second half. Bromley was an absolute monster for most of the game. Goggins had a very good second half, and we saw our first diesel pull of his career. Eric Crume didn't play as much as I expected, but he was very effective while he was in, and absolutely stuffed the middle a few times. Corey Boatman was only credited with one tackle, but he should've gotten credit for the sack that the scorer gave to Dyshawn Davis.
The linebackers played well as well, and really held Josh Harris, who was supposed to be the focal point of the Wake Forest offense, in check. Spruill was solid, and Dan Vaughan was all over the field. Dyshawn Davis looked very good swarming to the ball, but I thought he was a bit lost in pass-coverage. All-in-all, I think he compares favorably to Marquis Spruill as a freshman, and he should get better in coverage, as he did play safety for Milford Academy last season.
This may be a bold statement, but we might end up missing Mike Holmes and Da'Mon Merkerson more than Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue. While Tanner Price was in the game, our corners absolutely struggled. Ri'Shard Anderson got picked on a lot before he got injured, and Kevyn Scott wasn't much better. Keon Lyn played well when he came in for Anderson, but he wasn't great until the fourth quarter either. All three corners were banged up, but Price had his way with our secondary. The biggest issue, to me, was that we were giving them so much space to operate, and Price was allowed to dump off to open receivers all day, and our corners just couldn't make an open field tackle. We have pretty big, physical corners, I wish we would've played some more press and challenged the receivers at the line.
Brandon Reddish played a bit after Scott left the game, and looked pretty solid. He's going to be a good player.
In the fourth quarter, our CBs really stepped it up though. Scott's interception was a thing of beauty, and Lyn was great in coverage. It didn't hurt that Wake's back-up QB Stachitas was a huge downgrade from Price, but injuries are a part of the game.
Phil Thomas did not have his best game. He got burnt in coverage a number of times, especially off of play action. I thought he played a bit better in the fourth, but hopefully we can give him a lot of rest this week in practice and against Rhode Island. Jeremi Wilkes was very good when he came in for Phil.
#SHAMARKO was huge, especially in the first quarter when he made eight of his ten tackles. A few of the plays he made may have kept some points off the board.
I was pretty happy with our special teams overall. The field goal blocking is an issue, but it's definitely something that can be fixed. Ross Krautman's kickoffs were a lot better than last year. Shane Raupers was solid as well, after that first punt which was pretty ugly. He ended up average a very respectable 44 yards per punt. Dorian Graham continues to be a monster on punts. The early hit on the one punt was pretty stupid (albeit awesome), but he more than made up for it by downing the other punt inside the five. Jeremi Wilkes had the legal hit of the game on the kickoff in the fourth. I wasn't sure if that kid was getting up. I love Kobena as a kick returner as well, and I think he's going to take one all the way this year.
As one final side note, I saw one of the most unfortunately funny things I've ever seen at the Dome. The entire Milford Academy team was at the Dome last night, and they were hanging out on the sideline before SU ran out onto the field. A large group of freshmen a section over from us were convinced, for whatever reason, that Milford was Wake Forest, so when they walked by to go to their seats, they got pretty viciously booed, flipped off, and cursed at. Luckily, someone went and explained it to them afterwards, but it was a pretty hilarious thing to watch. Oh, freshmen...
Overall, as ugly as the game was, this was a huge win for our program. It proved that we could come back from adversity, and showed the mental toughness that Doug Marrone has instilled in this team. Our players could have easily rolled over and died, as many of our fans did, but instead they came out, and dominated the fourth quarter and gutted out the win. If we lose yesterday, no one comes out for Rhode Island, and even after we win that game, people would've said it was "just Rhode Island". Then, unless we pull out a huge win in Los Angeles, we would've had a hard time getting a lot of the fans on the fence to come back out. This win really sets the tone for the season, and I'm really excited to see this team grow and improve going further.