Football

With Marrone heading to Buffalo, a look at his top 5 games as Syracuse’s head coach

Doug Marrone came to Syracuse with a 3-ring binder containing the plan that would rebuild his alma mater. At first it wasn’t easy — or pretty — as Marrone handed the keys to graduate student Greg Paulus, the former Duke point guard and Syracuse native, who did his best in guiding the Orange during the first transition year.

But four wins became eight wins in just the second season Marrone was at the helm, and suddenly he had brought the Orange back to a bowl game for the first time since 2004.

That momentum fostered new expectations within the Syracuse program. It seemed Marrone was certainly the right man for the job, a no-nonsense coach who could motivate players to reaching their potential.

The 2011 season, though, yielded mostly frustration. An impressive 5-2 start was offset by a disastrous five-game losing streak to end the season. The two words Syracuse fans can’t bear to hear were uttered: Greg Robinson.

Somewhere between that collapse and the start of 2012, something changed deep within the Syracuse program. Marrone called it senior leadership and a closeness none of his former SU teams could match.

It produced nothing but grit, toughness and an ability to fight back. Rather than stumbling into December, the Orange soared. Marrone led a team that went 6-1 over the final seven games of the season, winning at home, on the road and even against a Southeastern Conference opponent.

The wondrous turnaround was capped by a thorough beating of West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl against Dana Holgorsen, one of the brightest young coaches in college football. Doug Marrone did his job.

And so now we look back on some of his greatest games as Syracuse head coach, as all signs indicate he has prowled the Carrier Dome sidelines for the last time. Here is my list of his top-five games:

5. 9/19/2009 — Syracuse 37, Northwestern 34

After an overtime loss to begin the season, and a 21-point loss on the road at Penn State, Doug Marrone finally earned his first win for the Orange in front of 40,251 in the Carrier Dome. It was an exciting game, a high-scoring game, and it provided fans with a glimmer of hope that Marrone and Paulus might be able to work some magic.

4. 10/9/2010 — Syracuse 13, South Florida 9

The drive. Ryan Nassib led the team on a 98-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter to give the Orange its first Big East road win under Marrone. For Nassib, then a quarterback many SU fans had doubts about, this leadership and poise foreshadowed the command he would demonstrate as a senior in 2012. In a season defined by winning on the road, this win was perhaps the most impressive.

3. 12/30/2010 — Pinstripe Bowl: Syracuse 36, Kansas State 34

Suddenly there was life, as Doug Marrone led a feisty, road-tested team into his hometown of New York City to a bowl game for the first time since 2004. His team performed beautifully, with Delone Carter chugging along for 198 yards and earning the Most Valuable Player award, while quarterback Ryan Nassib and wide receiver Marcus Sales developed a connection that would prove fruitful for the rest of their careers. Marrone, the boy from the Bronx, saw his dream come true.

2. 11/10/12 — Syracuse 45, Louisville 26

There was something about ranked teams playing in the Carrier Dome that suited Doug Marrone well. One year after Syracuse blasted West Virginia, a team ranked as high as No. 11 in the country, by 26 points, he and his staff put together a game plan that trounced Louisville, the 10th-ranked team in the nation, one week after a disappointing loss to Cincinnati. It was the start of a four-game winning streak to end the season and demonstrated how lethal the new offense can be when clicking on all cylinders. The Cardinals, considered by many to be the best team in the Big East, went on to trounce No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl, which only further validated the quality of that win.

1. 12/29/12 — Syracuse 38, West Virginia 14

You have to wonder if this was the perfect way to leave, back in New York City for the second time against a former Big East rival, in the snow and cold for a grind-it-out game that suited Marrone’s personality. It certainly seemed like an ideal finish, especially as Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith ran over, through and around a West Virginia team that was outmatched for most of the game. Afterwards Marrone smiled in his post game press conference, perhaps more than any other game I’ve covered in the last three years. He seemed content for the first time in a long while, the fruits of his labor finally showing through to cap a successful season. It was his second bowl appearance — and second bowl win — in four years. Syracuse football was back. It was relevant again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-Feldmann/100001907572207 Tom Feldmann

    Welcome to Buffalo Doug! Fire this team up. We need powerful, spirited leadership. Think Superbowl. Think of the namesake. Fire ‘em up like Lombardi!

  • http://www.facebook.com/beilman Adam Beilman

    Attended #5, 2, and 1 in person, the latter two as an alumnus. I’ve often said that your #5 (vs. Northwestern) was the single best football game I’ve ever attended. As a Syracuse and Buffalo Bills fan, clearly I haven’t had that many. Hopefully Doug can contribute some more to my list in Orchard Park this season.

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