Once again, Juice Online reporter Corey Mallonee was at the Carrier Dome as Syracuse took on Rhode Island. Here’s his diary of the action:
30 minutes to game time: There’s a bit of a different feel tonight from last week. There are students and (I assume) ROTC members in uniform scattered around outside collecting donations for veterans, which is nice to see. There’s also seriously heightened security—everyone gets wanded on their way in. The guard is puzzled that I’m bringing a laptop to a football game.
15 minutes to game time: the crowd observes a moment of silence for 9/11. It is extremely surreal—the Dome is completely quiet except for the people moving around the outer hallways.
Also, this is probably pretty standard but still cool: the SU cheerleaders accompany the national anthem with sign language. I initially misidentify this as some sort of odd interpretive dance routine.
2 minutes to game time: The Dome is only sparsely filled, but there are a lot of late arrivals coming in. It’s also hard to judge because the crowd seems to always be concentrated on the same side as the press box, behind the SU bench. There are definitely fewer people here than last week, though.
Syracuse 0 – Rhode Island 0
13:13 Rhode Island receives to start, and right away the Orange clamp on the pressure. The run defense is looking good and URI goes three and out. A good sign early.
11:43 Ouch. That one was a momentum killer. With the Orange driving, and the offense clicking much, much better than early last week—not a difficult feat, I know—Nassib sails a ball out wide over Van Chew’s head that Devin Dace easily hauls in for a pick.
9:45 Fortunately, the turnover doesn’t hurt the Orange as Rhode Island goes three and out again. Nassib, the incumbent Big East Player of the Week, is looking good, throwing on the roll and hitting a lot of quick screens. Van Chew, who in person looks gangly and kind of half asleep, throws a nasty block to turn a dead-in-the-water screen pass into a gain of seven.
7:15 Nassib overthrows TE David Stevens deep for what would have been a touchdown. I’m sensing a trend here.
6:40 Some aggressive play calling from Marrone—the Orange go for it on 4th and 5 from the 32, and it pays off when Nassib hits Chew over the middle. Pick aside, SU is looking great on both sides of the ball. The question, of course: how much of this is on SU and how much of it’s on URI? It’s easy to look good against weaker teams. On the other hand, it says a lot that expectations are as high as they are this year.
6:17 Nassib sends yet another another ball high over the middle, but fortunately Van Chew can jump—he hauls it in above his head for a touchdown and just like that, SU is up 7-0.
6:17 One serious downside to seeing games live: getting subjected to the dulcet strains of Sixpence None the Richer every time the Kiss Cam goes on. Speaking of the Kiss Cam, aside from it being the most awkward thing on earth, does anyone else feel like it’s kinda sorta an invitation to harassment? Last week a dude kissed a woman when she definitely did not want him to. I kind of hope she slapped him when the camera cut away.
5:11 Missing defensive starters Chandler Jones and Ri’shard Anderson, SU’s defense is nonetheless looking good. They’re playing punishing run defense, and Steve Probst seems spooked. Lots of incompletions and he’s getting hurried and hit.
4:24 Dyshawn Davis sacks Probst for a loss of three, and SU lines up to field the punt on the URI 40.
4:18 Chew gets held on a deep route, then shoved over at the end, but no call, leading the crowd to politely express its displeasure. Editor Wes Cheng, via The Juice’s twitter: “I guess they don’t call pass interference in Div. 2.” ZING!
1:18ish Just when it seems like SU might be riding Nassib a little too much, Bailey busts out a nice spin move and picks up a first on a 12-yard carry. The Orange are taking shots in the air, and though they’ve only connected for one score, they’re definitely moving the ball early. Again, a nice change from last week.
0:44 Bailey comes off after a one-yard run, looking very shaken up. That could be bad news. “Let’s play football!” someone yells. I’m not sure what he’s complaining about. We are, indeed, playing football here.
0:33 SU goes for it on 4th and 1 and comes up short by inches. Gotta like the aggression though.
0:28 Probst throws behind a receiver, who drops it. You have to think he’s feeling all the times he’s been hit already.
Syracuse 7 – Rhode Island 0
13:15 Nice veteran moment from Phillip Thomas—he was up in his teammates’ ears on the line of scrimmage, directing traffic. It looked like he clocked the play before it happened—the run does indeed come to that side, and there’s a loss of three on the play.
12:35 Give Probst credit, he’s not shy about carrying the ball in spite of how much he’s been hit. Still looking shaky throwing the ball but he’s making it up on the ground.
11:28 Probst gets crushed again as he’s releasing. Third and 7 on the SU 48.
11:18 Probst takes it AGAIN on the ground but comes up inches short of the first.
10:41 Dome is BY FAR the loudest it’s been for this 4th and inches. URI calls a timeout.
10:41 Crowd on their feet. Lots of really piercing whistling. And… URI gets the first.
9:43 In a play that takes bewilderingly long to develop, Rams RB Travis Hurd breaks through the middle for a 26-yard TD. As he’s running he looks sort of confused at how much space he has. It’s a tie game, 7-7.
Also: Hurd might give Antwon Bailey a run for his money for shortest man on the field. Neither one of them seems to make it to anybody else’s shoulders.
9:05 After a misread on the kickoff that leads to a poor return, SU takes back over. Bailey is up on the sidelines—looks like he’ll be coming back in soon.
8:21 On a fake reverse, Nassib lofts a near-perfect throw to Chew streaking deep for 62 yards. He maybe slightly underthrew it—Chew had to slow up just a bit to catch it, which meant Dace was able to haul him down at the five. Nassib quickly hits Lemon for an easy TD. The opportunities have been there for big plays. Nice that SU finally capitalized on one. They’re back up, 14-7.
8:09 They just played the Hey Song! They just played the Hey Song! Except, hilariously, they cut if off halfway through, after the third ‘you suck.’ You can almost feel the disappointment from the student section when they cut it off. When did that get unbanned?
7:15 Probst runs it up the middle. Again. For a first down. Again. Say, guys, do you think he might try to run the ball?
6:36 Breaking: RB De’ontray Johnson for URI is also extremely short. I initially thought he and Hurd were the same person, because they both look like 2/3 scale models of their teammates.
5:38 The Orange are looking a might shaky on defense right now. They’ve let off a couple big-ish plays this drive, and they’re still having trouble containing Probst on the ground.
5:04 An errant pass from Probst literally bounces off Philip Thomas’s hands. Don’t think he was expecting that.
4:16 The Orange, in spite of the problems they’re having, continue to bring pressure. After a sack, Dyshawn Davis goes up the middle unmolested and wrecks Probst, forcing an errant throw. URI’s Feinstein misses the 45-yard field goal wide left, and Syracuse’s 7-point lead is intact.
3:22 SU punts for the first time tonight, from their own 35 after going 3 and out. It’s pretty weak, only 31 yards—maybe Raupers needs to warm his leg up again? The Rams take over near midfield.
1:38 Okay, so two things about the crowd tonight: one, they’re doing a pretty respectable job of making noise, but good lord, that finger in mouth whistling that people do is grating. I feel like someone’s screaming directly in my ears. Second, on defensive third downs and any situation where they want the crowd to get up, the Dome does this piped in foghorn noise to go along with the crowd, which I find kind of annoying. It feels cheap, I guess. Let the crowd make the noise, you know?
0:00 14-7 After Travis Hurd makes the entire Orange D look silly in a flurry of missed tackles and broken ankles, Keystone Kops style, Marquis Spruill tips a ball up and Thomas intercepts, ending a threatening drive from URI. Nassib gets blindsided for a loss, and we go into halftime with the Orange up, 14-7.
Syracuse 14 – Rhode Island 7
So far, this feels like kind of the reverse of last week, but not in a good way–the Orange are taking the Wake Forest role, where it feels like they should be up by at least one more touchdown than they are. They’ve left the door wide open, and after looking good early, some of the problems from last week are starting to pop up, especially with the defense.
Other halftime notes:
-I missed this when it happened, but apparently some overseas troops sent in a video that was played on the jumbotron during a break in the first quarter. It got a huge ovation.
-Some dude in a cowboy hat—same guy who did the national anthem—is singing what I guess is a country song. I say ‘I guess’ because the acoustics in here are atrocious and I can’t really tell. There’s so much echo that the Dome PA announcements are also completely unintelligible. The Dome must be a TERRIBLE concert venue.
-There are, strangely, many small children in the press box right now. Also: Jim Boeheim sighting! He’s taller than I expected.
Syracuse 14 – Rhode Island 7
14:55 A great block springs Kobena for a solid 26-yard return. SU starts from their own 33.
13:56 That’s the Raupers I know! Nick Provo drops a pass on 3rd down and SU punts for only the second time this game––Raupers boots a high one, giving the Orange time to get downfield, let it roll, and cover. URI starts on their own 25.
13:48 After a worrisomely easy throw over the middle into the heart of the secondary, we get a facemask call and another player down. SU is starting to shoot itself in the foot here with penalties.
11:38 In spite of a holding penalty RI is marching it down the field, aided by more crafty running from Johnson and a roughing the passer penalty on second and 20. WR Brandon Johnson-Farrell toes the sideline for a first down; the crowd doesn’t like it, but on review, it’s a good catch. Probst is throwing well, a bad sign. Also, the Orange should probably stop giving URI free first downs.
10:38 Oh, my goodness. Anthony Baskerville makes an absolutely ludicrous full-extension layout catch for the touchdown. He went completely horizontal, about four feet off the ground. Good lord. It’s a tie game. 14-14.
10:28 Kobena looks like he’s going to be able to break around the outside on the return, but a URI player gets a hand on his jersey, and it slows him down just enough for Dace to make the tackle.
8:24 SU is failing utterly to get anything going on the ground. Not really sure what’s going on—Bailey, who oh yeah is back in, just got crushed in the backfield on third down, forcing another punt. Offensive line is not really holding up their end of things right now.
8:13 Another player down. Dyshawn Davis limps off the field with help. Word comes up that he’s experiencing cramps.
7:00ish Thomas clocks another play and chases down WR Ty Bynum for a loss on a sweep to the right. Thomas is having an excellent game…
6:54 …but not perfect. He gets nailed for pass interference on the next play. It’s a good call, as he hit the receiver a split second before the ball did. “You guys suck!” yells a lady somewhere below us. Honestly, I think the officials are doing a solid job. The Orange just keep making bad mistakes.
5:29 The Orange miss two quick chances to turn URI over. First Hurd fumbles but falls on it, and then Keon Lyn, recovered from a bout of vomiting in the first half, breaks up a sideline pass on third down that could have been a pick-6. But SU gets the ball anyway as the Rams are forced to punt.
4:29 On third and 16 Nassib makes a great throw under pressure to Dorian Graham, who picks up the first with a 21-yard gain.
1:48 Nassib swarmed and sacked again! Guys, you should probably start blocking. Just a thought.
0:58 Okay, this is weird, and unrelated to the game, but: there appear to be rival sections of the marching band playing right now. Is there a schism or something? One of them’s behind the SU endzone, and the other’s way up in the nosebleeds on the other end, right below the Pinstripe Bowl banner. During breaks, they keep either a) playing different songs or b) playing the same song, but it sounds different, either because their timing is bad or the fact that they’re so far apart. I am completely baffled by this decision.
0:23 Raupers does it again! Lands a punt on about the 15, it rolls to the three and the Orange cover. He got off to a shaky start but he looks back on form. Good opportunity for SU here.
0:00 Well, that didn’t last—rolling right, and with about five Orange players in pursuit looking for the safety, Probst nails Baskerville on the 20 for a first, bringing us to the end of the quarter. At the break, the PA plays ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’ leading to a rousing sing-along from the crowd. Speaking of the crowd, we have an announced attendance of 36,421. Um… okay. If you say so.
Syracuse 14 – Rhode Island 14
14:24 On the other hand, however many people are actually here, the crowd is doing its job. After the noise forces URI to burn another timeout on third and nine, Probst goes over the middle to, who else, Baskerville for a first. He continues to throw well after his bad start, even though he’s gotten clobbered quite a few times.
13:47 Hurd comes up hopping mad after he gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage, and, indeed, it’s another facemask. Penalties are a theme again this week.
12:34 Cameron Lynch sniffs out a screen pass and stuffs it in the backfield for a loss. SU’s defense has been downright grotesque on third downs but they finally get a stop. The Rams line up to go for it on 4th and 12 and SU burns a timeout, which presumably is what Rhode Island was going for.
12:26 Well, that was kind of goofy. Probst took the snap on 4th and 12, then punted it himself with nobody back to return. However, there’s a reason he’s the quarterback and not a punter—the kick dribbles into the endzone and SU gets it on the 20.
11:25 Nassib’s having a nice drive so far. Hits Van Chew for yet another first down on the outside.
8:34 Wow—scrambling right, Nassib hits Michael Acchione at the front pylon for 12 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. It’s the first career TD for the former walk-on, and only his second career catch. Once again, Nassib saved his best work for the fourth quarter. The Orange are up 21-14 with 8 and change to go.
7:00ish Oh lord—more horrifying third down defense. Probst runs for yet another first, and Deon Goggins narrowly avoids getting docked for a late hit.
5:29 The next third down is much better. The crowd is deafening and players on the SU bench are literally jumping up and down. Probst gets hurried and throws it away.
3:44 Bound and determined to keep the Rams in the game, SU goes three and out on a series of screen passes, bringing scattered boos from the crowd, not to mention curses from the press box. I can sort of see the rationale since the run game’s been nonexistent all afternoon, and Chew and Lemon have had a lot of success with screens, but man, that didn’t go quite the way it could have.
1:36 Holy cow. The defense just decided to wake up, or at least Marquise Spruill did, to the tune of two sacks in a row to set up a third and 27 with time running down.
1:29 Aaaand that’s all she wrote: Thomas backpedals to his second pick of the game, for the game. Time ticks down, and we can all exhale.
Final score: Syracuse 21 – Rhode Island 14
So the good news: a win is a win, obviously, and SU is 2-0 at home, nothing to sniff at considering the depths to which the program had sunk when Doug Marrone took over. Nassib tied a school record for completions, and Van Chew and Alec Lemon both had career nights receiving.
But man, a lot of the same problems that showed up last week were apparent this time around. True, the secondary didn’t get eviscerated the way it did against Wake Forest; instead, the Orange had no answer for Probst’s legs. And there was the worrisome proliferation of missed tackles.
You get the feeling the Orange are going to have to play a near-perfect game in order to avoid a bloodbath next week against USC—but they haven’t shown they’re anywhere near ready to play to their potential right now.
Enjoy this while it lasts, because next week could be ugly. But for now the Orange are 2-0.Corey Mallonee (Follow on Twitter @CoreyMallonee)