After suffering a disappointing season-opening loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions, 23-17, Syracuse seeks its first win of the year against an explosive Northwestern team. This time, the game will take place on Ryan Field instead of the Dome, where Northwestern downed the Orange in a 42-41 shootout last season.
Northwestern opened its season on the road by defeating the Cal Bears 44-30. The offense didn’t miss a beat as junior Trevor Siemian stepped in to throw for 276 yards and a touchdown after starting quarterback Kain Colter suffered a concussion.
Siemian also played in last year’s win against Syracuse, completing 8-of-11 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown in relief of Colter, though Colter is expected to play on Saturday. Tailback Venric Mark torched the Orange last year and will surely be a threat again if healthy, as he also saw limited action last week for Northwestern because of an injury. Treyvon Green, who ran for 129 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns last week for Northwestern, will also be a player to watch.
Syracuse racked up 596 total yards of offense in last year’s contest, including 482 through the air. But with Ryan Nassib, Alec Lemon, and Marcus Sales having exhausted their eligibility, the new-look Orange offense—led by quarterback and Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen—struggled last week against Penn State despite the return of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley in the backfield.
A few of the same mistakes that cost the Orange a win last year against Northwestern resurfaced against Penn State. If SU wants to avoid a second straight 0-2 start to a season, here are some areas Scott Shafer and the Orange need to address:
Stop the Big Play
Not only did Northwestern score in a variety of ways against SU last year, they also scored from different spots on the field: Mark returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown while also hauling in a 21-yard TD pass. Chi Chi Ariguzo returned a fumble 33 yards for another score. Penn State beat the Orange with two long touchdown passes. Penn State WR Allen Robinson scored from 51 yards out in the third quarter while freshman Eugene Lewis caught a 54-yard pass in the fourth quarter. Syracuse will have to avoid another monster game from Mark and Green if it hopes to be victorious.
Don’t Get Caught Star Gazing
Despite not playing the first half, Robinson made the made up for lost time in the second half. The junior grabbed seven balls for 133 yards. His presence allowed Penn State to open up its second half offense after Syracuse limited it to a pair of field goals in the first half. Last year, Northwestern’s Mark was a one-man wrecking crew against the Orange. Not only did he have the punt return TD, Mark rushed for 82 yards on 14 carries, caught two passes for 16 yards, returned three kicks for 67 yards, and ran back a second punt 52 yards.
Win the Turnover Battle
Syracuse’s attacking defense picked up where it left off last year corralling two fumbles and picking off two passes. The Orange all but neutralized that advantage by coughing up a fumble of its own while Allen tossed two picks. The second interception iced the game for Penn State as Syracuse was driving for the winning touchdown. Last year, SU lost two fumbles and an interception against Northwestern while the Wildcats turned it over only once. Limiting turnovers is a crucial factor in winning on the road.
No Extra Downs
Nothing stops an offense’s momentum or prevents a defense from getting off the field faster than penalties. Yellow flags littered the field at MetLife Stadium eight times for 70 yards. With Allen and Syracuse’s receiving corps still trying to build continuity, they can’t afford to cost themselves scoring chances. The SU defense also can’t afford to extend its opponents’ drives with silly penalties. In last year’s matchup, Syracuse committed 12 penalties for 72 yards against Northwestern. That’s too many extra downs for an experienced offense like the Wildcats.