What the hell does four quarters of football mean anyway?
Sure, four quarters can decide games, seasons, and championships, but the first four quarters of the year? That's different, at least for most teams.
Can the first four out of 48 scheduled quarters really tell us everything we need to know about the Syracuse Orange?
Game one of 2013, the ugly 23 - 17 loss to Penn State at MetLife Stadium, wasn't pretty for either team, but it certainly wasn't the end of the world. That's not to say I wasn't frustrated watching that slog-fest, I mean, this column is far from a blow-smoke up your rear piece. There were plenty of "You've got to be kidding me!" moments to go around Saturday.
(Most notably, the intolerable broadcast duo of Mike Patrick -- who's clearly two to three steps behind the game he's calling -- and the insufferable Ed Cunningham. I 'm not joking when I say I fully expected Cunningham to yell out, "Cal's still in this thing!" with Patrick nodding in full agreement.)
But let's start with the starting quarterback, Drew Allen, a lightning rod for some Orange fans after the L to the Lions. Allen misfired on 21 of his 38 throws, throwing two interceptions and a handful of near-picks. Allen's was a debut to forget. Yet, I'm not going to write someone off who has been on campus for one month, who hadn't started since high school, and someone playing against a pretty impressive defense in Penn State. Allen showed some good, a lot of bad, and that he probably will get the hang of things. That's the ultimate impression I was left with: he'll get better.
And why is that so hard to believe?
Take a look at the other "issues" for Syracuse from Saturday:
- The secondary was beaten badly by Allen Robinson.
- The offensive line, replacing two key members, struggled to open up holes for Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley. Not to mention, look up at that picture, Allen didn't exactly have a whole lot of time in the pocket.
- Which is also a function of wide receivers not creating separation quickly enough.
- And the special teams unit was far from special - Ross Krautman looking like a freshmen kicker playing on the big stage for the first time.
Yet, we all assume those problems will clear up with practice, repetition; time. Why won't all of those things, specifically time and experience, help Allen too?
There's a reason this Oklahoma transfer was named starter and it's not because he played for Bob Stoops. That's not to say Terrel Hunt is deserving too, or that he won't eventually be a good signal caller for Syracuse down the road. But the coaching staff saw enough of Allen, in a short amount of time, to see he gave the Orange the best chance to win. So maybe judging him off of one tough game, in a game filled with rough spots for the entire team, isn't the right thing to do.
Plus, what if Scott Shafer does in fact bench Allen before the next game? That would send a pretty bad message to the team (and to opponents). If you face adversity then just dump the guy and go to the backup. Yikes. I wouldn't want my coach to think like that.
And the kicker is, Syracuse, despite those growing pains of a new quarterback, coach, coordinators, had its chances to win. Allen's second interception, a bad decision all around (I think Allen does have a significant problem throwing sideline to sideline), decided the game. That's how close the Orange was to pulling off an ugly win. Down six with the ball, two minutes left, driving for the win.
Instead Syracuse vs. Penn State 2013 goes down as another "Should Have/Could Have."
So why was it so tight at the end? Defense - specifically the front seven. The bigs up front on D, along with the talented linebacking corp, held Penn State to 1-of-16 on third downs and just 57 rushing yards on 38 attempts. In other words: Syracuse missed a major opportunity here.
Not because Penn State is a loaded team destined for greatness. Far from it. But the Lions are good, and their first-year QB will get better, and so to will their offensive line, their defense, their special teams. Penn State can't win the Big Ten, but I would bet its on pace for another one of those gutty 7 or 8 win campaigns. There's no shame in losing to a Bill O'Brien coached team. None.
That doesn't mean this loss won't sting any less, and the criticisms are likely to get louder after next week's trap at Northwestern. 0-2 to start the year will put a bigger bull's eye on Allen.
But, like after one game, two games does not a season make either. There's Wagner and Tulane waiting and 2-2 will be here before we know it. And then, a lot like last season, it will be game on. Sure to bring more frustration and just the same some elation.
I don't know. Maybe Allen won't get better, maybe the other ills of this Syracuse team won't be cured, maybe time will tell us SU isn't very good this season. But I don't think that's the case because I think if there's one thing the first game taught me, it's that there's reason to look forward to the next - irony of ironies - 44 quarters.