Every year there is at least one game on the schedule that you circle as an automatic win. For WSU fans that game is the upcoming Montana State tilt, while for Washington--in the minds of the fans--that automatic win is at home against Syracuse.
It isn't easy to travel all the way across the country and win a game in a hostile environment. In fact the Orange have a 1-11-1 record in games played out West since 1964. Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone is well-aware of that, so he is flying his team out on Thursday to get an extra day to acclimate the the Pacific time zone.
Marrone is viewed as a savior at Syracuse. He was three-year letter winner on the Orange offensive line during the mid-1980's, and played a bit in the NFL before entering coaching. He has bounced around the NCAA and NFL as an assistant since 1992, and was the first choice of Syracuse alums to take over from Greg Robinson in 2009.
Syracuse went 4-8 overall and 1-6 in the Big East during his first season. This season the prevailing belief is he has enough talent to pick up a couple of more wins and qualify the Orange for a bowl game. A 29-3 win over mighty Akron on the road last week is validation for Cuse fans that the program is headed in the right direction.
"We’ve got to get to a bowl," Marrone said. "Once we pass that hurdle I think great things could happen. Because the way the program is being built, it’s being built for the long term, not the short term."
Since there are only eight teams in the Big East, each member has to schedule five out of conference games per season. With Syracuse's non-conference schedule consisting of Akron, Washington, Colgate, Maine, and Boston College, it is easy to envision SU winning three out of those contests. What would really make some noise is if they can upset Washington on the road this Saturday.
Can Syracuse actually beat Washington this year? If you listen to Syracuse fans they will tell you that the program has done a 180 attitude-and-toughness-wise under Marrone. Husky coaches feel the Orange are exactly where they were last season. They believe Syracuse will be competitive in the majority of the games they play this season.
Sean Keeley, who writes for the SBN Syracuse blog, recently moved to Seattle from back East has these comments on the game in his blog.
I was listening to Washing coach Steve Sarkisian's radio show today and I felt terrible for the guy. The entire show consisted of the radio hosts lobbing passive-aggressive questions and concerns about the Huskies 23-17 loss to BYU this past weekend.
Question after question of "what happened there?" and "do you wish you could have done that differently?"
Sark handled it well, though I imagine if he has to do this again for a few more weeks we might be witness to the first live strangulation in radio history.
That said, I look forward to listening to the radio hosts pummel Sark with the same exact questions next week. For the next six days, my sympathy for the man is nil. For the next six days, I wish my new hometown team nothing but pain and suffering and the deflation of all their hopes and dreams.
I have shot Sean's blog a couple of emails requesting a Q&A before the game but haven't gotten a response back as of yet. Sean, if you are out there, we are interested in what you have to say even though your football team is about to be handed a double-digit loss.
Syracuse likes to run the ball. If they hope to beat Washington on Saturday they need to control the tempo of the game with an attack built around senior tailback Delone Carter, junior sidekick Antwon Bailey and freshman Prince-Tyson Gulley.
"The base offense for us right now is if you close your eyes and think of the base offense when we were growing up — two backs in the backfield, tight end, two receivers — that’s the origin of the offense," Marrone said following the spring game back in April. "It starts with that personnel group and then goes to others. And you saw multiple formations and shifts and motions. And we tried to keep it simple. You probably saw a lot out there, but we have a whole bunch more than that."
Marrone spent preseason camp installing that "whole bunch more," and the result is a diverse offense aimed at confusing and exploiting a defense just about every way imaginable on the ground and then trying to pass over it when it crowds the line of scrimmage to stop the onslaught.
So the Syracuse game plan is to pound the ball at Washington in confusing ways until the Huskies stack the line of scrimmage. At that precise moment sophomore QB Ryan Nassib will exploit the Husky defense deep to break open the ballgame and lead Syracuse to victory.
Before you finish laughing, consider that Syracuse does have a very talented backfield. Nassib is a good-looking quarterback and Carter will be playing on Sundays somewhere in the future. Getting deep, however, will be a problem, the Orange doesn't have game-breaking speed at WR. That being said, it is a good-looking group of possession receivers and collection of tight ends who play well together.
The offensive line will be smaller, less talented, and less experienced that what we faced last week against BYU. However, expect a scrappy, physical group that is definitely on the upswing but without much depth behind the starters.
SU jumped to 37th nationally in total defense, up from 101st (of 120 teams) in 2008. The Orange led the Big East in run defense and was 13th nationally, allowing just 101.8 yards per game. Its 35 sacks ranked eighth in the country in 2009.
Despite the good running numbers, Syracuse was seventh of eight Big East teams in passing defense (and 85th nationally), giving up more than 235 yards through the air each week in 2009.
Syracuse runs a 4-3 defense, surely concentrating on keeping Jake Locker bottled up in the pocket. Such philosophy worked well for BYU last week, and expect the Orange to run similar schemes until Locker exploits them through the air. Even though NT Arthur Jones has departed for the NFL, Syracuse has a good looking front seven, highlighted by a couple of Butkus candidates at linebacker.
The Syracuse secondary was their weak link last season and will continue to be exploited in 2010. They simply don't match up well with the Washington WR corps, which should receive a boost this week with the return of James Johnson. The Huskies need to exploit that advantage early and often. Expect Locker to pass for around 300 yards this weekend.
The experts are predicting Washington will win the game by two touchdowns, which I believe seems pretty conservative. Should Washington play error-free football, this game has the potential to be a rout. That being said, if the Huskies get trounced again on special teams and start turning the ball over, this is definitely a game they could lose.
Syracuse isn't a patsy anymore. Doug Marrone has this program running in the right direction and he isn't taking a lot of time to get there. Give him 2-3 more strong recruiting classes and this program will be competing once again for a Big East championship, and while many Washington fans look upon this game as an automatic win, this is a different Syracuse team than we played three seasons ago. The Orange aren't going to fold when the going gets tough, Washington is going to win this game, but it won't be a cakewalk.