Orange fans went wild when the team came back from a 22-point deficit to take a late lead in the game on Saturday against Northwestern. But two minutes later, hopes of an Orange victory were dashed by a Wildcat touchdown with just 44-seconds remaining.
While there were a lot of problems for the Orange (mental mistakes, penalties, special teams, etc.), a few bright spots preserved the possibility of a successful season.
One of those bright spots was playing in his first competitive game since receiving for 172 yards and three touchdowns in the Pinstripe Bowl. Marcus Sales picked up where he left off over a year ago with another successful performance today. But head coach Doug Marrone says this is just the beginning for Sales.
“He had 11 catches, he had over 100 yards,” Marrone said. “But I still think Marcus can do a better job.”
Sales agreed with Marrone, saying a 117-yard, one touchdown performance isn’t satisfying when the team loses.
“We just know we gotta go out next week and play harder,” Sales said. “I can’t settle for 11 catches, maybe I need to get 13 next time to get the victory.”
The Orange receiving core is shorthanded. Alec Lemon, the team’s leading receiver last season, was sidelined today with a hamstring injury. Jeremiah Kobena made just one reception last season, but stepped up as a leading receiver today. His 79-yard, 2-touchdown performance took some of the pressure off Sales in the secondary.
Ryan Nassib had a career-high 470 yards in the air. After the game he said he was happy to have Sales back on the sidelines.
“I’ve trusted Marc ever since we came here together and he really had a great day,” he said. “He made my job a lot easier.”
When asked how he felt about setting the record, Nassib wouldn’t take the credit. He thanked the team, his offensive line and Sales.
“He was getting open,” Nassib said. “I was really happy with how me and him connected tonight.”
It took some time for Sales to regain his comfort level on the field. In the second quarter, Sales dropped a pass and then two plays later, Nassib threw him a ball that popped out of his hands and was intercepted.
From that moment on, Sales didn’t falter. He made some nice catches but more importantly, he looked great in the open field. He found seams and juked the defense on multiple occasions.
Overall, it was the performance that Marrone was hoping to see out of Sales in his first game back in Orange.
“Marcus has been out of football for a year,” Marrone said. “He’s come back and he’s got himself off to a good start.”
Sales, along with the rest of the Orange, have a tough task ahead of them next week as they take on top-ranked USC at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It’s going to take a flawless performance to take down Heisman-hopeful Matt Barkley and the National Championship favorites.