Dominant performance by Nassib still not enough for Syracuse to pull out victory
The cloak was lifted yet nothing appeared different. Months of secrecy — a quarantine on spring practice and a preseason camp held partially at a military base more than 75 miles from Syracuse — gave way to more of the same.
Fans still grumbled, the Carrier Dome stayed barren and the brand new scoreboards showed an age-old scenario with the Orange trailing by 22 points midway through the third quarter.
“Did anyone in this room expect us not to fight back?” Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone asked in his postgame press conference.
Truthfully, the answer was yes. History makes it so.
And just as his promises of a new, exciting, gun-slinging offense teetered on the edge of unfounded propaganda, Marrone’s team came to life. Syracuse rode the right arm of Ryan Nassib almost exclusively in the second half, surging all the way back to take the lead behind a brilliant 470-yard, four-touchdown performance from its senior quarterback.
But in an ending that has become painfully consistent for Orange fans, SU (0-1) wound up on the wrong end of a 42-41 thriller with Northwestern (1-0) despite racking up 596 yards of offense and setting a handful of new school records.
The result was a strange postgame atmosphere that oozed disappointment despite having just compiled the most prolific offensive performance since 2003.
“People are trying to cheer me up with what we did, but I can’t get cheered up,” Syracuse offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “There’s so much more we can do, and so much better we can get.”
Hackett’s statement is a surprising one considering the stagnant offense that played a part in the five-game losing streak that brought the 2011 season to a forgettable end. And when applied to 2010, Nassib’s first year as the starting quarterback, it’s unfathomable.
He set school records for pass attempts (65), pass completions (44) and passing yards (470) on Saturday as he engineered a 28-point swing over a 14-minute span.
“When you have good receivers and a good offensive line, it makes my job easy. With the playcalling, Coach Hackett put me in the right spot to make some good throws. I was fortunate enough to connect on some plays.”
Ryan Nassib, Syracuse quarterback
This coming just two years after he went 5-for-15 for 63 yards against West Virginia and one year after he failed to eclipse 300 yards passing against a Division-I opponent.
“He threw for 470 yards?” running back Jerome Smith said when informed of Nassib’s total. “Congrats to him. Sheesh. That’s big for our offense.”
Nassib reconnected brilliantly with Marcus Sales (11 catches, 117 yards, 1 touchdown), who played his first game in over a year after he was suspended for the 2011 season, and their seven-yard connection with 2:21 remaining in the third quarter marked the beginning of Syracuse’s comeback.
From there he led the Orange on three consecutive scoring drives, each of which was more than 70 yards.
The I-formation and single-back sets that were a staple of the Syracuse offense a year ago were replaced with four and five wide receiver sets that afforded Nassib a multitude of options on each play — including tailbacks Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley out of the backfield. He distributed the ball beautifully to nine different receivers while operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun and exploiting an increasingly fatigued Northwestern secondary.
A blend of deep passes — see the 50-yard touchdown heave to Jeremiah Kobena — and shorter passes, like the seven-yard scoring strike hauled in by Kobena on the next drive, provided the balance that a traditional running game usually offers.
“When you have good receivers and a good offensive line, it makes my job easy,” Nassib said. “With the playcalling, Coach Hackett put me in the right spot to make some good throws. I was fortunate enough to connect on some plays.”
And after a pump fake froze the defense on a third-and-2 play deep in Northwestern territory, Nassib connected on the biggest shot of all. His high-arching pass nestled into the hands of 159-pound speedster Christopher Clark to give Syracuse a 41-35 lead with less than three minutes remaining.
It nearly capped what would have been a win for the record books were it not for a late Northwestern touchdown with 44 seconds remaining.
Instead, the game that ushered in a new offensive era for Syracuse yielded an all-too-familiar end result: a loss.
Said Smith: “Let’s get 800 yards. Obviously 600 wasn’t enough.”
- ONE TOO MANY: Costly mistakes by Syracuse waste comeback bid in 42-41 loss
- Syracuse loses to Northwestern 42-41
- Cohen: In return to field, Sales proves he can be counted on to be consistent weapon for 2012 season
- Northwestern running back Mark powers rushing attack; Smith, Gulley give Syracuse strong performances out of backfield
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