Syracuse v. Connecticut report card

The Orange got the better of Paul Pasqualoni in his return to the Carrier Dome, as the Orange won 40-10. It was Syracuse’s largest margin of victory this season, as SU excelled in all facets of the game. Here are my grades:

Offense: A-

The Syracuse offense looked dramatically better than it did one week ago in an ugly loss to Rutgers. They didn’t turn the ball over and put up 502 yards on the board. Jerome Smith (133 yards rushing) and Alec Lemon (166 yards receiving and a touchdown) each had career nights, while Ryan Nassib (251 passing yards and two touchdowns) returned to early season form.

Jerome_Smith

Smith had a career night in the win

But Syracuse coach Doug Marrone was quick to point out that Syracuse got lucky in the turnover department. SU fumbled the ball three times, and was fortunate to fall on it each time. On one bizarre play, Nassib was hit as tried to throw, and the ball ricocheted to center Macky MacPherson, who lunged forward for a five yard gain (just like they drew it up!).

The offense also had its problems with the red zone again early on, settling for a pair of field goals before scoring 27 unanswered points. Still, these were small criticisms in and otherwise masterful performance from the offense.

» Related: Orange commit too many mistakes

Defense: A+

There are impressive statistics, and then there are freakishly impressive statistics that are reserved for Saturday afternoons on the Playstation with the difficulty level set to “Junior Varsity.” Connecticut had -6 rushing yards on Friday night, which I didn’t think was really possible for an FBS team. The last time SU had this kind of success was in 2009 when Akron had zero.

Syracuse brought pressure early and often, daring Connecticut to beat them through the air instead of on the ground. When Lyle McCombs, the Big East’s leading returning rusher, did touch the ball, he was immediately met with a swarm of Orange. He finished with 16 yards on 12 rushes (he had come in averaging more than 80 a game).

Meanwhile, the Huskies were completely shut out after the second quarter. QB Chandler Whitmer was sacked twice, fumbled once and was picked off on his last throw of the game. Sure, he threw for 296 yards, but that was with SU daring him to beat them through the air all game. He and the rest of the Huskies came nowhere close to doing that.

» Related: 10 Things We Learned from SU’s loss to Rutgers

Special Teams: A

I gave this unit an F last week, and deservedly so. Steve Rene muffed a punt. Ross Krautman looked lost. And the offensive line allowed a block on a potential go-ahead field goal, leaving Marrone as frustrated as I’ve seen him since his arrival four years ago.

Whatever Syracuse did this week in practice, they should do that for the rest of the season.

For starters, Ritchy Desir replaced Rene in punt returns. He knew when to fair catch, and when not to. This alone improved the unit’s score by a whole letter grade. He took four punts and averaged 9.8 yards a return, and his long was 33 yards. Pretty impressive, especially compared to Rene.

Meanwhile, Krautman discovered the magic from his freshman year, and was 4 for 4 in field goals, including a season long of 47 yards. He also tacked on 4 PATs for a 16 point day. It’s this unit’s first “A” of the season, and I sincerely hope it’s not the last.

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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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