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Orange prepares for third big test

Jim Johnson

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From the Syracuse Post-Standard:

Orange prepares for third big test

Syracuse will try to reverse a trend of losing to a top team following an easy win.

November 10, 2003

By Dave Rahme

Staff writer

Twice before during this up-and-down Syracuse University football season, the Orangemen tuned up for a conference heavyweight on the road with an impressive victory at home.

SU coach Paul Pasqualoni, fresh off his 100th career victory while working the Orange sideline, and his staff can only hope the third time is a charm. The first two were anything but.

The Orangemen (5-3 overall, 2-2 Big East) followed a 34-7 cruiser over Toledo with a 51-7 clunker at Virginia Tech. Their response to an impressive 39-14 victory over Boston College was an unimpressive 34-14 loss at Pittsburgh.

Now, they will try to ride the momentum of Saturday's 41-17 victory over Temple to the shores of Miami Beach, where they have been swamped by a cumulative score of 104-13 by the Hurricanes since Donovan McNabb led the Orangemen to a 33-13 decision in 1997. It was SU's lone victory in the Orange Bowl in the 12-year history of the Big East football conference, and it came at a time Miami was reeling under heavy NCAA sanctions.

Miami is an unlikely venue for the Orangemen to find the missing 2 in their 1-2 punch, even though the Hurricanes lost their second consecutive game Saturday and are suddenly struggling mightily on offense.

"I'm sure losing to Tennessee (10-6) will only add fuel to the fire," Pasqualoni said.

"I'm just going to enjoy this win," junior tailback Walter Reyes said, and come Monday prepare to play a great Miami team at home. They're going to be hungry, of course."

And Syracuse usually provides a feast, losing its last four games overall against the Hurricanes by 179-20.

There are signs, though, that this SU team should be able to present a more formidable fight than its four predecessors. For instance:

Run and done.Since Virginia Tech embarrassed them by rushing for 337 yards in a 51-7 victory on Oct. 11, the Orangemen have allowed 208 rushing yards total in their last three games (69.3 yards per game) and have not allowed a 100-yard rushing game.

After the Tech game, they were allowing 172.6 rushing yards per game, which compounded the problems in their young secondary. That number is down to 133.9 yards per game now, thanks to superb work inside by senior tackles Christian Ferrara and Louis Gachelin and senior middle linebacker Richie Scanlon and better tackling all-around.

The improved tackling was especially evident in the secondary Saturday, where Temple receivers were generally planted shortly after catching the ball. The Owls turned two short fourth-quarter receptions into long TDs via missed tackles in engineering their 17-16 upset of SU last season. This time, they averaged only 5.4 yards per pass attempt (8 yards is the goal SU sets for an efficient passing attack).

A stronger pass rush has complemented the stingier run defense. Held without a sack for the first three games, SU has a respectable 13 in its last five.

If the Orangemen can shut down Miami's ground game, which will be minus star tailback Frank Gore, and force erratic quarterback Brock Berlin to try to beat them with his arm, they have a shot.

Tough up front.For the first time in Pasqualoni's 13 years as head coach, the offensive line is clearly the No. 1 strength on an SU football team. Two-thirds of the way into the season, there can be no disputing that assessment.

Saturday, the line pounded away at a Temple defense that stacked eight or nine players close to the line of scrimmage in order to stop the run and produced 232 rushing yards. The going was often tough, but eventually the effort paid off.

It also allowed only one sack to a defense that was leading the league in that category, with 19. The line has allowed a league-low seven sacks in eight games.

Its protection allowed R.J. Anderson to find Rashard Williams for a 43-yard completion in the second quarter - giving Miami something to think about other than Johnnie Morant this week - and helped him average 11.1 yards per pass attempt.

Anderson, who completed only 38.9 percent of his passes (8-for-17) at Pitt, sat in the pocket and completed a season-high 80 percent (16-for-20) against the Owls.

Veteran offensive coordinator George DeLeone defines ideal offensive balance as 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing a game. SU is a little better than that at running the ball (216.1 yards per game) and a little worse at passing it (173 yards per game), but it is in the ballpark.

If the Orangemen can establish a balanced attack Saturday, they have a chance against the Hurricanes. The line, with an assist from the fullbacks and tight ends, has the ability to provide one.

The ratio.Take a look at any college football game this season, and you will discover that turnover ratio is the determining factor in the vast majority of them. There is so much parity right now, that no team can afford to give away the ball and expect to win. This SU team has turned over the ball only 10 times in eight games (seven fumbles, three interceptions). Anderson's lone interception Saturday was a freebie, as he tried to go deep just before the half and failed to get enough air under the ball. No harm there.

If the Orangemen can hang onto the ball Saturday and win the turnover battle, they should have a shot.

There are disturbing weaknesses, to be sure. The pass defense is still suspect, and special teams have been burned by blocked punts and some long returns. And there is still a question of whether SU can move the ball effectively in the air when a foe shuts down the ground game.

But a recently solid rush defense, a superb offensive line and an ability not to give away the ball should help the Orangemen fare better on their final schedule trip to Miami.

Certainly better than 104-13.

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Cruddup (sp?) will be starting and Winslow will be crying  ;D

Go Orangemen !!!

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