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Syracuse Football Roundtable, Week of October 15 (UConn)

TNIAAM's football experts share their opinions on the demoralizing Rutgers game, and give some thoughts on UConn, Friday night games and the program's future, as well.


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.

What's your pick for Syracuse's most inexcusable mistake versus Rutgers?

Jeremy Ryan:The four false start penalties in the second half were atrocious. You can't hope to gain any sort of rhythm on offense when the zebras are marching you back five yards, for no reason other than someone isn't paying attention. They do go over the snap count in the huddle before each play, right?

Matt McClusky: There's really too many to pick out just one. How can I choose between penalities, turnovers, missed blocks, and just plain old boneheaded plays??? So, I'll just say all were inexcusable because they all helped contribute to another winnable-game loss.

Andy Pregler: I honestly didn't watch most of the game. Girlfriend in town, mandatory Newhouse seminar, by ESPN3 blacking me out... So I can't give a lot of specific examples. What I can say in general is outplaying Rutgers in their house and not walking out with the win. Cuse NEEDED that win if Rutgers came out flat, which they did, and failed to capitalize. Bowl teams don't do that.

Chris Daughtrey: I hate to pile on the guy, but it has to be that last pick by Nassib. You can talk about the fumbles and the blocked kick and all of that. But when it came down to it, the Orange had a chance to tie the game despite totally stinking up High Point Solutions Stadium for the better part of the game. If Nassib is going to throw a pick on the drive, fine. Just not on the very first play. Give yourself a chance.

Dan Lyons: Allowing the blocked field goal. The Scarlet Knight who blocked it was the same one who blocked the kick against us last year, and said that he knew he could do it again because we hadn't changed up our blocking. There were plenty of mental mistakes that occurred, like the two interceptions, but this one is squarely on coaching.

Sean Keeley: I'll go with the whole red zone drive towards the end of the game when we lined up at the three-yard line for two successive shotgun plays and then followed it up with the most predictable usage of the Tank package possible and then going back to the shotgun for the inevitable incomplete pass. It was a stunning lack of clarity in an area of the field in which we thought the situation had been rectified. Plus, it demystified the Tank, which is inexcusable.

John Cassillo: I'll go with an early set of two mistakes that set the tone for the rest of the day. On our first drive, Rob Trudo's holding call, followed by an avoidable sack on Nassib took us from Rutgers' 25, to their 46 (and out of field goal range). It was crippling to our momentum, and indicative of how the rest of the day would go.

Complete this statement: I blame Doug Marrone for...

JR: The special teams woes. The man put a target on his own back when he assumed special teams coaching duties this season. According to, out of 124 FBS schools, the Orange are 92nd in yards per punt, 100th in yards per kickoff return, and 114th in field goal kicking percentage. So they're always playing at a field position disadvantage on offense and defense, and often not getting even three points when a drive sputters out - which happens regularly.

MM: A couple of things actually. I blame Marrone for the aforementioned mistakes that routinely haunt his teams. Marrone's been in charge long enough, the carelessness should be a thing of the past. The other issue I have with Marrone is his tendency to play not to lose. Now it's not anything like the old days of Paul Pasqualoni, but Marrone too often chooses the road more traveled when it comes to certain play calls or certain times of games. That road is usually less than 10 yards long and ends with the other team getting the ball back.

AP: Poor offensive scheming. Listen, there is only so much Marrone can control on the field and the players want to win and have what I think is the right mentality. But the play calling at time is baffling at best. Even if you're not the coordinator, you're the head coach who worked with the New Orleans Saints. YEAH the ones who have the prolific offense. It makes no sense that Marrone is continually so conservative and Hacket makes the play calls he does.

CD: Coming to Syracuse at the wrong time. I have no doubt that the man knows his business. You don't get to be an NFL O-coordinator by being an idiot. But the more I think about it, the more I think that this wasn't the right time for Marrone to fall into his dream job. He needed more time to learn how to be a head coach and the Syracuse program needed more time to not be absolute sh*t when he got there.

DL: Going off the last question, the special teams performance has to fall on him. To be fair, when he arrived, he brought in Bob Casullo, who was summarily fired for a number of reasons both based on performance on the field and not. Since then, things have only gotten worse, and have absolutely bottomed out this season with Marrone taking coordinator duties. I think that we need a high level dedicated special teams coach in the worst way. Casullo might not have worked out, but I'm sure there are other guys out there. Maybe we can poach Rutgers' special teams coach Joe Rossi with some ACC money after this year.

SK: Making my defense of his employment so f***ing hard these days. I didn't think we'd be at this point in Year 4 wondering if he's going to be fired next season. I really didn't.

JC: I know Dan and I had a lengthy conversation about this on Twitter after Saturday's game, but I blame him for all of our current woes. He may not be making the bone-headed errors, but he's the one failing to motivate players not to commit them. Provide some sort of repercussions for turnovers and penalties, and maybe things change.

Who's our best defensive player? There are so many choices!

JR: Shamarko Thomas is clearly the heart and soul of the team, but I think his fellow linebacker is having an unsung season. Siriki Diabate is leading the team in tackles (44 total) by a wide margin, and always seems to be around the ball carrier.

MM: DTs Deon Goggins and Jay Bromley have been dominate lately -- combining for 20 tackles against Rutgers and holding the Scarlet Knights Jawan Jamison to just over 2 yards per carry!

AP: I'm going with Siriki Diabate. May not be the flashiest, may not make the big plays, but he's the guy in on every play and you know exactly what your getting. He delivers an above average performance each game and is a leader on the defense. On this unit, that's the kind of play and mentality you need the entire team to emulate.

CD: I'm going to go with #SHAMARKO if only because he's the only one who's been consistently decent. The corners are suspect. The front seven has been playing great lately, but were downright horrible at times early in the season. Shamarko is the one guy, to me, who's always done his job and done it well.

DL: There are a lot of choices, but I'm going to go with Jay Bromley. He's been an absolute key in effectively shutting down Ray Graham and Jawan Jamison, who one could argue are the two best backs in the Big East, in back to back weeks. Bromley's presence on the inside, where he is often double teamed, allowed Brandon Sharpe to take one one blocker against Pittsburgh, and is a reason why Siriki Diabate and Shamarko Thomas are allowed to run free and put up huge tackle numbers. He may not stuff the stat book like others do, but I'd argue he's the most important player on the field.

SK: The best pound-for-pound athlete on the field has to be #SHAMARKO but I gotta give the award to Siriki Diabate for consistently making plays, doing his job and seemingly getting better as the season progresses. This guy is a star in the making.

JC: Siriki Diabate. I just wish he'd come on like this sooner in his career. After five games of action for him, he's recorded 38 tackles (23 over the past two contests). Anyone who watched the Rutgers game saw he was all over the field, making an impact on a pretty large percentage of plays (from my arbitrary point of view).

Where do you see this program in five years?

JR: Unfortunately, right about where we are right now - in the middle of another five-year plan with another coach at the helm. Marrone seems to be a great guy, and clarly loves his alma mater, but it would be hypocritical to give him more leeway when the only thing he has going for him is that he has a better career record than Greg Robinson.

MM: Wow, if that's not a scary question I don't know what is. I'll spin my answer this way; I am not nearly as confident that Marrone will be in charge in five years as I was just a couple of months ago. (Although, I maintain he has worked out an extension with the school -- possibly one already signed).

AP: If it's Marrone at the helm, it had better be a top half ACC team with appearances in the 25 every so often. However, I have a sneaking suspicion it won't be with Marrone and therefore still struggling to find an identity. The recruits coming in are getting better so hopefully that translates to better records to get that whole snowball for success rolling. But I'm going less than 50% we'll be back to the former glory of this program.

CD: Where do you see this program in five years? I can't really say. I mean, does Marrone turn things around and keep his job? Does he get fired and someone else comes in? Does that hypothetical replacement turn things around, or does it end up being Gerg all over again? There's too many variables.

DL: It really depends on whether or not Marrone is still coaching here. If he's still here in five years, I'd imagine that means that we're pretty good, as he wouldn't survived this year and next. If not, it's really hard to say. Unless a proven program builder with northeast ties and a solid offensive system comes along and takes the Syracuse job in a hypothetical post-Marrone world, it's almost impossible to predict how a coach will do. I'm still rooting for Doug, and I think that if he's our coach in 2017, we'll all be pretty happy with where the program is.

SK: As a middle-of-the-road ACC program. Sometimes we finish 7-5. Sometimes we finish 4-8. We never go too far in either direction for too long. It is what it is.

JC: Consistently jockeying with Maryland, Boston College and Wake Forest for the fourth through seventh slots in the Atlantic division. Hopefully, by that point, we've made some positive progress as a program, but a lot of that depends on the coach. I won't speculate whether or not Marrone's still on board, because I honestly couldn't tell you now, based on his resume and the school's needs and capabilities.

Which UConn player holds the key to the Huskies' success on Friday night?

JR: Kemba Walker. Oh, sorry. Wrong sport. Well, running back Lyle McCombs is averaging 80 yards per game on the ground with four touchdowns in six games. If SU shuts him down they'll have a good chance of limiting the Huskies' offense.

MM: Connecticut likely wins if Ryan Nassib continues to throw the ball to the other team and if the special teams unit continues to give up one or two huge plays.

AP: I feel like this game will be like the Pitt game: If Chandler Whitmer makes lots of mistakes, Syracuse will be able to win. If Whitmer has a decent day and is able to keep the ball to himself and not make poor decisions, then Cuse will need a strong offensive performance to ensure they can score enough points to win against a half decent defense.

CD: I honestly have no clue. I haven't even seen highlights of UConn, much less a game. So, I'm going to cop out and say that it's quarterback Chandler Whitmer. With back-to-back shut downs of Ray Graham and Jawan Jamison, the Orange have shown that whatever issues they've had with run defense have largely been resolved. That leaves it up to Whitmer to beat Syracuse (assuming they don't beat themselves again).

DL: Trevardo Williams. He's putting up big numbers so far this year (31 tackles, 9 TFL, 7.5 sacks, one forced fumble), so if we allow him to run free and get to Nassib, I think we'll have a long day. I played offensive tackle against Trevardo in high school, so I will tell you all first hand, he's really, really, really good.

SK: QB Chandler Whitmer. I feel like our defense can handle a hobbled Lyle McComb. But as we've proven, we still let mediocre QBs look like Davey O'Brien candidates. Whitmer needs a confidence boost and if we allow him to get one, we could be in big trouble.

JC: Trevardo Williams, though anyone on the defensive line will also work here. UConn's been able to generate a pretty serviceable pass rush this year (20 sacks thus far), so it's something to watch out for. If Williams & Co. are penetrating the line too often, it's going to be a very long night for Ryan Nassib (and my liver, as a result).

If we beat UConn, should we just schedule every game for Friday night going forward?

JR: Only if we also schedule every game against Pitt and UConn. And Stony Brook, I suppose.

MM: Let me rant here -- Friday night games make sense because SU needs TV coverage like Mitt Romney needs binders full of women. TV equals exposure, which in turns equals money. Money is the end all for any business, college football programs and athletic departments are no different. Still, even with that understanding in mind, Friday night games, and Thursday night ones too, are a complete slap in the face of Syracuse fans who happen to live outside of the area. I'm from the "North Country" and it's an hour drive to get to the Dome. How do you expect people with jobs and families to be able to get to the Dome on a Friday night coming from an hour away? To leave work early, to handle a Friday evening like a Saturday afternoon? Not to mention getting home sometime after midnight. Again, there is no use in fighting the issue because there is no changing the issue, Friday night games are here to stay. But one reason the Dome remains full of empty seats is because the die-hard fans from out of the area are essentially phased out.

AP: Yes, yes, yes. DOCTOR Gross wants to schedule games in NYC, ESPN wants Friday nights, fans want neither so I'll go with the ones that results in wins. Honestly, at this point, if putting Marrone in as left guard meant we'd win, I'd expect him to do it every week because THAT'S how bad the team should feel it needs to win.

CD: Hey. When we had our TNIAAM tailgate for the Toledo game last season, Syracuse "won". his year, for the Northwestern game, I insisted that we park in the very same spots, but the attendant made us move. We know what the result was. I wouldn't call myself a superstitious fan. I'm not all "spirit fingers" like StrawHatGuy. But when it comes to that kind of stuff, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If you win on Friday nights, schedule as many games as possible then. It can't hurt.

DL: Clearly. Unfortunately, that will really cut down on the amount of Dome trips I can make from here in Connecticut, but I'll sacrifice for the greater good. Unless all of those Friday night games are at Metlife Stadium, in which case, I'll be getting season tickets.

SK: Yes.

JC: Only if we can exclusively schedule Pitt and West Virginia. And just Pitt and West Virginia. It's always fun to beat those teams. It's even more fun when most of the country's watching since you're the only game on television.

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