Pretty scary for the Syracuse University football team Saturday night.
And a pretty scary Saturday coming up with undefeated South Florida – a team the Orange have not beaten and really haven’t come very close to in four tries – charging into the Carrier Dome to open the Big East season after knocking off Florida State.
SU had trouble enough with Maine. I originally felt they would, but after the Black Bears lost to Albany, I figured they didn’t have the personnel to stay with a team that had just played pretty competently against three consecutive Big 10 opponents.
Wrong. The Black Bears beat a tune on the Orange in the first half, and not just because of fake punts and on-side kicks. Their defensive line was excellent, and their players talented and competitive overall. SU did what it had to do in the second half, but Maine’s early success boldly underlined several Orange problems, the most achingly obvious being the inability to defend against the pass.
SU is now ranked 117th in pass defense out of 120 Division I teams at 310.5 yards per game. Greg Paulus’ continued development at quarterback – he’s ranked 35th in the nation, is completing 68 percent of his throws, has six touchdowns and four interceptions and a healthy 11.38 yards per completion – is a terrific story. However, Paulus throws for 346 yards, Northwestern’s Mike Kafka throws for 390; Paulus throws for 270, Maine’s Warren Smith throws for 305 and Mike Bruscko 35 more, for a team that passed for 96 yards against Albany and 156 against Northeastern.
That, as Dr. Red Duke used to say, is a recipe for disaster.
I’m not sure if the Orange are not athletic enough in the secondary to cover well, whether they can’t get enough pressure on passers – they’re averaging 2.50 sacks a game, 31st in the nation – a combination of those things, or even if they have the wrong defensive concept. Whatever, the pass defense has to improve considerably, or they are going to have to win their Big East games, like, 45-42, which is not likely.
How about these scores from Saturday:
Iowa 21, No. 5 Penn State 10: There is something about Iowa. Whatever their record, they always seem tough as nails. Joe Paterno knows. Kirk Ferentz has beaten him seven of eight tries, and this was in State College.
Oregon 42, No. 6 California 3: What? Lose, okay, but c’mon. Jahvid Best had been spectacular, but the Ducks loaded up on him – 55 yards in 16 carries – and the Bears apparently didn’t know what to do in response, or couldn’t do it.
South Florida 17, No. 18 Florida State 7: How many great high school football players are there in the state of Florida? Big East all-time yardage leader Matt Grothe goes down for the season, so red-shirt B.J. Daniels comes out an accounts for 341 yards in his first start. He’ll be at the Carrier Dome Saturday.
And that proves that if you bet on college football, you’re probably better off buying an Irish Sweepstakes ticket.