Syracuse v. Northwestern report card

The Orange mounted a memorable comeback on Saturday that fell just short in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, losing to Northwestern, 42-41. But after the game, head coach Doug Marrone said there were a lot of positives to look at from the game.

coachmarrone

Special teams struggled

Offense – B

It was a rough start for the Orange offense. It marched into the red zone on two straight trips and on those trips, Syracuse settled for field goals. But then the team started to click and figured out a successful offensive scheme to throw at the weak Northwestern secondary.

» Related: Marcus Sales shines in SU return

The strategy was simple: Pass the ball. Nassib kept going deep and the Wildcat defense would either commit a pass interference penalty or give up a big reception. The result of that was a record-breaking day for Nassib and a pretty successful day for the offense.

The running game wasn’t as impressive. No one really established himself as the go-to back. The most impressive was probably Prince-Tyson Gulley who rushed for 50 yards. Jerome Smith, who was named the starter earlier in the week, ran for just 34 yards on 10 carries and had a mental lapse on a backward pass that led to a Northwestern touchdown.

Defense – C

I was comfortable with the defense before heading into Saturday’s game. The Orange defense was nowhere near as bad as Northwestern’s defense, but it wasn’t great. Kain Colter picked apart the Orange, both in the air and on the ground, until he got hurt in the third quarter. And then Trevor Siemian, Northwestern’s backup quarterback, came in and completed 8-of-11 passes.

But the defense earned its subpar grade on Northwestern’s final drive. After a couple big stops, it was only going to take one more to win the game. The Wildcats flew down the field and after a huge mental mistake from Keon Lyn, pushing the quarterback when he was clearly going out of bounds, Northwestern scored to win the game. The unit failed the team when it needed it most.

» Related: 10 things we learned from the Northwestern game

Special Teams – F

The Orange punted to the Northwestern returner Venric Mark twice. He returned one for 82 yards and a touchdown and the other for 52 yards. The punts were pretty good but the coverage was just awful and from that point forward, the Orange stopped kicking returnable kicks.

The kick offs weren’t much better. Northwestern struggled picking up the line drive kick offs but a good team is going to pick those up and run all over the Orange. Even Ross Krautman, who is usually very reliable, missed a makeable field goal that may have gone on to win the game for the Orange. Special teams needs to be a main focus of practice this week.

Overall – C-

It was the first game of season, there are going to be a lot of things to work out. But this was a game the Orange needed to win. The team can’t afford losses like this if it wants to find itself in a bowl at the end of the year.

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