3 things Syracuse needs to focus on during its time off

first_img Comments 1. Find right niches for few receiving options available This season has been about injuries for the Syracuse wide receiving corps. Starting this bye week, it should be about niches. The injuries, SU couldn’t do anything about. The niches, SU can do something about. The answer to the wide receiver strife is two-fold when it comes to these niches. These days off should be spent engraining and perfecting what the last two reliable receivers SU is down to — Van Chew and Alec Lemon — will need to do game-in and game-out in Big East play. Then it is about addressing what the likes of Marcus Sales and Dorian Graham may be able to bring to the table for Ryan Nassib. Niches, because half of the receivers head coach Doug Marrone and the Orange planned to have filled into their ideal roles by now are no longer able to play. Three receivers who the Orange expected contributions out of this season — Jarrod West, Aaron Weaver and Steve Rene — have all gone down. They won’t be returning.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text It started on Aug. 11, when West, a true freshman, was already on crutches in the Manley Field House parking lot. Less than 24 hours later, it was announced he was out indefinitely with an injury to his foot. Marrone made it clear at that point in time that SU had lost perhaps the one freshman receiver who was going to get reps this year. The 6-foot-3 West, the tallest receiver with a chance to play for the Orange, would not be providing that height as a weapon. ‘I was assuming he was going to be someone that was going to be a part of this offense and really contributing in the first year,’ Marrone said on Aug. 12. With West out, the team had three receivers rise above the rest: Van Chew as the main target and deep threat; Alec Lemon as the reliable route-runner and occasional big-play provider; and Aaron Weaver as the big-bodied 220-pound revelation with a nose for the ball. After two games and a half a week of practice leading up to the team’s home opener against Maine, Weaver was lost. His big body held to six catches in his SU career. On Monday, it was announced that Rene was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. With the bye week, it would have been interesting to see if Rene was going to be utilized more in the plans. So here the Orange stands, needing Lemon to step up, just like Chew. Aside from Chew, the Orange receivers haven’t done much in the passing game. He is the only Orange receiver in the Top 10 in the Big East in receptions (sixth with 4.8 per game) and receiving yards (second with 85.8 per game). SU needs Chew to continue to perform his Velcro-hands best, as he has all season, but now against the bigger secondaries of the Big East. And SU needs Graham or Sales to provide some kind of an extra niche. In tight games, SU just might need that extra something. It was exhibited in the Colgate game at times. There was the long jet-and-go attempt downfield to Graham in the end zone. There was the run-blocking by Sales on several big plays for Delone Carter. And there was the strike downfield where Nassib left Sales out to dry for two safeties to sandwich. SU tried against Colgate. The trying needs to continue. The niches need to be there, ironed out and ready for Tampa. Said Marrone on Sept. 20: ‘We have some options.’ — Asst. Sports Editor Tony Olivero, [email protected] 2. Fully prepare for most daunting four-game stretch of its schedule When others wouldn’t budge for two weeks, Marquis Spruill finally said the obvious. His defensive unit had just given up 376 yards to a Football Championship Subdivision team. Twenty-three first downs, more than Syracuse’s 20 on offense. A dominant 230 rushing yards, which almost matched a similar output from the Orange on a career day from Delone Carter. Time to state the obvious — the giant elephant in the room. ‘We’re going to watch film and see what we can get better at and make new goals for (South) Florida,’ Spruill said following Syracuse’s 42-7 win over the Raiders. ‘Colgate is a good team,’ he added. ‘But South Florida isn’t going to be Colgate.’ This is the reality SU faces heading into the toughest, perhaps make-or-break four-game stretch of its 2010 season. Starting with a trip to Tampa next week to face South Florida, the Orange will face the crown jewels of the Big East. And three of those four games will come on the road. Gone are the cupcakes of back-to-back home dates with Maine and Colgate. In comes a trip to Tampa, followed by a visit from Pittsburgh. In come the back-to-back road trips to Morgantown, W. Va., and Cincinnati. With the objective of a bowl in clear sight, the Orange now sees that reality coming: This is the stretch that could determine the fate of head coach Doug Marrone’s second season at the helm. ‘South Florida, playing them, obviously it’s another Big East team we haven’t beaten,’ Marrone said in the Big East coaches’ teleconference on Monday. ‘They’ve beaten us pretty darn good, from a point-differential standpoint when we’ve played them. Those are really what my concerns are.’ The Big East has hit a downturn to start the season, which should give the Orange even more of a reason for confidence heading into its conference slate. The only Big East team to beat a BCS conference squad this season in 11 tries was the Mountaineers, who beat Maryland 31-17 on Sept. 18. Five of those 10 BCS conference losses have come by double digits. Still, the Orange has not seen the constant barrage of playmakers it will prepare for over the coming weeks. First, there’ll be USF’s dual-threat quarterback B.J. Daniels. Next, dynamic running backs in Pittsburgh’s Dion Lewis and West Virginia’s Noel Devine. Then, a pure passer in Cincinnati’s Zach Collaros. And despite coaching one of the few members of the conference that has performed pretty much as expected in non-conference play, that’s precisely why Marrone isn’t taking the conference lightly. ‘We have a lot of good football teams we haven’t beaten here recently in the conference,’ Marrone said in the Big East teleconference. ‘We’re just taking it one game at a time.’ And to finally beat these teams — to steal one or two wins in its toughest stretch — SU will need to have complete games. No mental lapses, like against Washington. No limping out of the gate, like against Maine. No defensive slips, like last week against Colgate. For the Orange, it simply all has to come together — now. For fullback Adam Harris, the offense and the team is still a work in process. It’s just a matter of time before it all comes together. But that time needs to come next week. This is make-or-break time. Said Harris: ‘When we put all of the parts together, we’re going to be hard to stop.’ — Asst. Sports Editor Brett LoGiurato, [email protected] 3. Fix kinks in defense displayed in win over Colgate Doug Hogue recalls looking up at the scoreboard in the fourth quarter, hoping he and his teammates could hold on. Syracuse was just minutes away from its first defensive shutout in five years, but Colgate was driving. Eventually, the Syracuse defense wilted. Colgate running back Nate Eachus broke through on a 12-yard run, dashing SU’s hopes of a shutout. After the game, despite a 42-7 SU victory, not stopping the Raiders and preserving the shutout was still on the Syracuse linebacker’s mind. ‘Man, we really wanted that,’ Hogue said. ‘From a defensive standpoint, we don’t want them to move the ball, let alone put points on the board.’ Similar thoughts will stick with Hogue as he and his defensive teammates prepare to take on a dynamic South Florida offense in just over a week. Through the first four weeks of the season, the Bulls lead the Big East in rushing offense (216.7 yards per game) and are second in scoring offense (32.3 points) and total offense (392.0 yards). After allowing Colgate to move the ball up and down the field and rack up 230 yards on the ground in the process, USF presents the Orange with a tall challenge. ‘We let them move the ball too much,’ Hogue said. ‘We let them convert on third downs and fourth downs, and going into the Big East, we need to pick that up. We need to fix that.’ Heading into the USF matchup, the Orange ranks third in the conference in both total defense (301 yards) and scoring defense (16.2 points) per game. But at times, the defense has struggled to maintain its consistency. Against Washington, it allowed 467 yards and 41 points. Against Maine, it allowed 14 first-half points. And against Colgate, it ended up staying on the field for 44:26, unable to stop the Raiders from moving the ball. Those inconsistencies are what the Orange will look to correct over the next week. All season, head coach Doug Marrone has stressed the importance of getting better each and every week. That message is especially important with SU embarking on conference play, where a big-time playmaker or two will be lurking around every corner. If Nate Eachus can run for 147 yards, what will the likes of Noel Devine and Dion Lewis do?   That message isn’t lost on Hogue and his teammates. They realize Akron, Maine and Colgate aren’t comparable to who lies ahead. For them, it’s back to the drawing board. ‘We need to review these past couple of games,’ cornerback Da’Mon Merkerson said Saturday. ‘Get better and become more sound. … Come prepared and ready for South Florida.’ Despite nearly shutting out Colgate Saturday, members of the SU defense were adamant that they need to get better with conference play now starting. For Hogue, the reality of that sunk in when, exhausted and fatigued, Syracuse couldn’t stop Colgate from finding its way into the end zone. When Colgate finally did break through, the game was no longer in doubt. For most observers, the touchdown may not have even mattered. Syracuse was moving on to South Florida, and the Raiders were a distant memory at that point. But to Hogue, Colgate’s lone score just added more motivation to tweak the defensive imperfections that have been a stumbling block for the Orange all season. To him, that touchdown mattered. ‘It most definitely mattered,’ Hogue said. ‘I can’t tell you what was in everybody else’s head, but I was really upset when they got that ball in the end zone. It just put a bad taste in my mouth to see that and just increased my motivation going forward.’ –Sports Editor Andrew L. John, [email protected] Published on September 29, 2010 at 12:00 pmcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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