Football rises and falls — 2011-12 Syracuse year in review

Each Monday during the summer, The Juice Online will be looking back to some of the biggest storylines in the 2011-12 Syracuse sports year. This week, we take a look back at Syracuse football’s fast start and disappointing end.

Fresh from the momentum of its first bowl victory in 10 years, the Syracuse Orange football team got off to a fast start in 2011, winning five of its first seven games.

The most emphatic and dramatic victory came against then-No. 11 West Virginia, 49-23, in the Carrier Dome.

Little went wrong for the Orange on that night. The largest crowd in three years (45,265) witnessed SU gain 443 total yards with quarterback Ryan Nassib finding tight end Nick Provo for three touchdown passes.

It was the highest ranked opponent SU toppled since it defeated No. 8 Virginia Tech 50-42 in triple overtime in 2002. After that game, it seemed the Orange was destined for a second straight bowl game and SU at the time was even considered a fringe BCS bowl candidate.

Things changed very quickly.

» More SU Football: Syracuse v. Pittsburgh preview

The Orange lost its next five games and missed bowl season completely. How did it happen?

For starters, the Orange offense disappeared. After its 49-point outburst against West Virginia, SU averaged just 16.2 points over the next five games. Ryan Nassib, who completed 66 percent of his passes in the first seven games, saw his completion percentage drop down to 58 percent the rest of the way.

Syracuse’s defense, ranked seventh overall in 2011, couldn’t stop the run during its losing streak, surrendering an average of 168.4 yards per game on the ground.

The Orange was also on the wrong side of the turnover battle, highlighted by its 33-20 loss in its season finale at Pittsburgh. SU turned the ball over six times, as Nassib had two interceptions and two fumbles.

It was a disappointing end to a season that started off so well.

“I did not expect this to happen in a million years,” Syracuse running back Jerome Smith said after the Pittsburgh loss. “We started out at 5-2. We were ready and we beat West Virginia. We’re a team and we play together, but we couldn’t get that one more win.”

» More Year in Review: Bernie Fine scandal

WHAT WE SAID:

Why did the SU football team, which was sitting on top of the Big East World late on the evening of Oct. 21 following a 49-23 dismantling of Top 15 ranked West Virginia, implode with a fourth consecutive defeat, a disheartening 30-13 Senior Day loss to Cincinnati in the Dome on Saturday, to drop to 5-6 with a game left to play? “It’s not easy to win,” Nassib said in reference to having had four chances to notch a sixth victory and secure bowl eligibility, and are now left with only one opportunity Saturday at Pittsburgh.  “We’ve only needed one game to become eligible for a month now.  It’s not as easy (winning games) as a lot of guys thought.” — Brad Bierman

» More SU Football: Meet RB Jerome Smith

WHAT THEY SAID:

It was only a month ago that Syracuse sat at 5-2, having flexed its mighty muscle with a 49-23 win over West Virginia. Since then, the Orange have had breakdowns everywhere and are in a real fight for their bowl lives. That was unthinkable back on Oct. 21. So what has happened? For one, Syracuse has not been able to run the football as effectively in its three straight losses. In the four games before the losing streak began, Syracuse was averaging 160.8 yards on the ground. In this three-game skid, it has averaged 94 yards rushing. — Andrea Adelson, ESPN

At the halfway point, this team was 4-2, and I said they were either the best 4-2 team in the country, or the worst 4-2 team in the country.  It ended up being the latter.  Other than the upset victory over West Virginia, the Orange lost every game of the second half of the season.  And you look back at those four wins, and you realize they were just good enough to win those games. — John Brennan, Orange::44

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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