Andrew Renneisen | Photo EditorFootball
Head start: Syracuse looks to end 1st-half struggles at Minnesota
Standing at the podium after Syracuse’s 28-17 win over Stony Brook, Doug Marrone said he was still looking for consistency from his team offensively.
Through three games, he couldn’t explain why the high-scoring unit failed to click in the first half. Marrone said he and his coaching staff scanned its big sheet of plays, trying a variety of combinations to jump-start the offense.
But so far, he hadn’t found the answers to the problem.
“Somewhere along the line in every offense, you’re going to struggle somewhere, but you don’t want to do it when you first come out,” Marrone said after the game last Saturday. “You want to get off to a good start, you want to get into a rhythm as fast as you can and it’s difficult, and we’re working extremely hard to figure out what that right rhythm is.”
Syracuse (1-2) will try to find its rhythm early Saturday when it takes on Minnesota (3-0) at 8 p.m. at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Slow starts doomed the Orange in losses to Northwestern and Southern California and contributed to a three-point halftime deficit against SBU, so getting on the board will be crucial in its first road game of the season.
The Orange offense has been explosive in the second half, scoring 68 of its 98 points after halftime this season. The unit has thrived in a new fast-paced system, as Ryan Nassib is second in the nation in passing offense and has thrown for nine touchdowns. But Nassib and the SU offense will face a stiff test against a Minnesota team that ranks 15th in the country in passing yards allowed per game and has given up just two touchdowns through the air in three games.
To continue its streak of success and pick up a win on Saturday, the Orange knows it needs to find its rhythm from the start.
“We have to keep on being aggressive, right when we get out we got to attack and I think that will be the biggest test this week,” SU offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said.
Hackett said the coaches have drilled the need to come out ready to go on the first drive all week at practice. Wide receiver Alec Lemon said practices have started with team drills to get the players running around and in the flow for the game rather than starting with individual work.
While the play calling that Marrone referenced last Saturday contributes to the slow starts, Lemon said it comes down to the players being focused when they step on the field.
“We got to come in with our mindset ready to go on the first play,” Lemon said. “You can’t take a couple plays to get into the flow of the game and stuff like that, so it takes ownership on us too.”
Still, Hackett admits part of the problem lies with the play calling. Syracuse has been a slow-starting team since he arrived in 2010, and he knows he needs to be more aggressive with his calls early in games.
Starting off conservative will only contribute to a sluggish start. Last week, Stony Brook came out and confused the Orange with a variety of looks in coverage, and it took until halftime for Hackett and the team to adjust.
The offense will face a Minnesota defense that focuses on stuffing the run and forcing quarterbacks to throw the ball to the outside of the field, Hackett said.
Lemon said the offense must know the opposing defense’s tendencies, but it also comes down to making plays and execution on the Orange’s side.
“We got a different defense each week and good players out there,” Lemon said. “We got to make the plays on our side of the ball. We can’t hurt ourselves with turnovers and stuff like that, so it comes up to us as well.”
For Syracuse to pick up its second win of the season against Minnesota, Lemon and his teammates have to make plays in the first 30 minutes — not just in the second half.
“With a good team like this, you have to have success right away, but that’s just like any team you have to,” Lemon said. “Our goal is to score every possession, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
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