In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics on Syracuse football. Today’s topic: Can Syracuse’s offense rebound from its subpar 2011 season?
Wesley Cheng: Ben, Syracuse was in the bottom half of several key statistical offensive categories last season, including points (84th), rushing (95th) and passing (65th). Do you think the 2012 season will be more of the same, or will the Orange bust out of its slump?
Ben Glidden: I think the success of the Orange offense lies in the hands of one person: Ryan Nassib. The quarterback is the leader, both emotionally and physically. He can single handedly determine the success of this offense. If he makes a solid improvement heading into his senior year, making smarter decisions, better passes and pocket presence, then it’ll be a better year for the Orange. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s ready to lead the team, even with all the offensive weapons around him.
WC: Ben, I couldn’t agree more that Nassib is the lynchpin to the team’s success. I am interested in why you think he’s not ready to lead the team. Last year, Nassib completed 66 percent of his passes in the first seven games when the Orange started 5-2. I know there are a lot of reasons why his completion percentage dropped down to 58 percent the rest of the way, but there are a few reasons why I think he can sustain that pace the entire year. The main reason is the return of Marcus Sales, who is the deep threat that Nassib was missing from the 2011 season. With Sales back and a solid offensive line, don’t you think the offense will improve?
BG: The offense might improve, but I don’t think it’ll be at the level it needs to be. Having Marcus Sales will certainly help Nassib, but there’s a flip side to that coin. With Sales back in the lineup, Nassib will have a deep threat. But when the pocket is collapsing and he has nowhere to run, will he fire away to that deep threat? Even when Sales is getting double teamed by the opposing defense? I just don’t think Nassib is a great decision maker. Nassib had some brilliant moments last season, but it was against teams like Wake Forest and Rhode Island. Once the Big East opponents came along, he struggled under pressure. I think his biggest weakness is his confidence in the pocket. The moment his offensive line moves the slightest big towards him, he bails. And I don’t think the offensive line is going to make enough of an improvement for him to gain any confidence.
WC: I think Marrone is banking on other teams doubling Sales down field. If that happens, it opens up a lot of one-on-one opportunities for Alec Lemon, Beckett Wales and Jarrod West. The receiving corps is one of the deepest in recent memory, and by stretching the field out, Nassib is going to have a lot of underneath options to choose from. I’m also interested to see how Marrone’s newly installed zone read schemes are going to work with Nassib. You mentioned that he was chased around last season, but with Marrone letting Nassib run more, it’s going to be an invaluable asset to the team. All of this, and we haven’t even touched on the running game. Do you think Syracuse can replace Antwon Bailey’s production from last year?
BG: The running game is where I’m optimistic. If the backs can take some pressure off of Nassib and the passing game, it’ll be huge for the offense as a whole. The problem is that no running back on the SU roster has proven himself on the field. Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley will carry most of the load for the Orange, two capable backs that haven’t gotten a chance to lead a running game yet. These two have an opportunity to be a dynamic combo but then you add freshman Ashton Broyld into the mix. Will he make any difference this year? His speed and athleticism are unparalleled and if he gets put in the right situations, he could do it all as both a receiver and a back.
WC: I’m less optimistic than you are, for reasons you already stated. Gulley and Smith carried the ball a combined 55 times last year (Bailey rushed 240 times) so there isn’t a large sample size to work with here. The Spring Game was a perfect opportunity for one of the two to distinguish themselves, yet neither really stood out. I will say that I was excited about Smith’s 10 rushes for 52 yards and a score in the season finale against Pitt. Another guy you need to throw in there is Adonis Ameen-Moore. I love his size and his potential to be a true downhill runner. The guy is going to get you those yards on third and short. I also agree that Broyld is an X-factor, but how much do you really see him being used this year?
BG: Ameen-Moore is going to be huge in goal line situations. Gulley could have proven himself last season if it wasn’t for his injury. And Smith, like you said, gave us a preview in that Pittsburgh game at the end of the year. They’re all lining up to be a strong back. I’d like to think Broyld is going to be used a lot this season, just because he can do so much. But realistically, I don’t see him making that big of a difference. He has two or three backs ahead of him in the lineup, he might lineup as a slot receiver occasionally and I really don’t think he’ll see time as quarterback. But I do think this kid is the future of the program, he’s just going to have to wait a year before showing everyone that.