SYRACUSE, N.Y.– What happened?
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?
Quarterback Ryan Nassib, chased all afternoon by a Bearcats defense that produced four sacks and countless plays in which he was banged, bruised and harried, wearily clarified the reason succinctly after the latest offensive meltdown produced only one touchdown.
“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.”
The ‘Cuse went to Louisville eight days after the WVU victory and was completely outplayed by a Cardinals team that was inspired by the pre-game locker room appearance of senior cornerback Anthony Conner. Conner had suffered a neck injury the week before and was a surprise visitor to his teammates who responded accordingly.
Next was the Paul Pasqualoni Bowl and a mistake-filled loss to Connecticut, followed by a one-sided defeat to South Florida, a team the Orange upset in Tampa a year ago.
With an extra week off to prepare and so much to play for in the home finale, disappointedly minus many of the locals who apparently wanted to take advantage of the Indian Summer temperatures on a late November day, SU came up flat and its skid continued, which left head coach Doug Marrone steamed.
“You have no idea what type of feeling (inside) it is. Trust me,” Marrone said emotionally in describing the weight of a winless five week stretch. “I can’t believe that I’ve disappointed the fans, the people (around the program), everyone. I care too much about this community, and where this program was, where I want to take this program, the administration, the faculty, and the players. And…right now, I feel like I’m letting them down.”
But there’s still one last shot at bowl eligibility and some redemption with a win over Pittsburgh for the first time since the aforementioned Pasqualoni beat the Panthers in 2004, his final Orange season, a message Marrone hopes he got through to his beleaguered bunch.
“How many times are you going to get back up there in the bottom of the ninth and people (pitchers) give you a chance to hit the ball?” Marrone explained to his team. “It’s not going to be the homerun, but for us to go to a bowl game is important. We’ve got to play better.”