If nothing else, the 2011 Syracuse University football team has already made an impression.
Their furious comeback in last Thursday’s season opener at home against Wake Forest has kept the campus buzzing about what this squad can accomplish this year in the Big East Conference. Down 29-14 in the 4th quarter, the Orange offense came alive, with quarterback Ryan Nassib and running back Antwon Bailey leading 'Cuse on a 22-0 run that ended with a 36-29 overtime victory.
This week’s opponent, the Rhode Island Rams, have no such stories to tell of their season so far; when they enter the Carrier Dome Saturday it will be for their first game of the year. The two teams have met just once before, in 2002, when Rhode Island was blown out by Syracuse 63-17. In 2010, the Rams went 5-6 in the Colonial Athletic Association - of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision - and will welcome back 18 starters from that campaign, including All-CAA quarterback Steve Probst.
In his press conference Monday afternoon Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone stressed the importance of not looking beyond this Saturday’s match up, despite a flashy game against Southern California lurking on the horizon.
“I’ve never beaten Rhode Island,” Marrone said. “(They) are one heck of a football team, so I’m not worried about anything in the future. I’m just worried about today.”
Marrone also stressed how a fast start against Rhode Island is a focal point for the team this week, particularly after the flat first half performance they showed against Wake Forest.
While the old saying goes that a win is a win is a win, coaches and players mirrored Marrone’s disappointment about how Week 1 went. Nassib said Wednesday that while a point in the win column is a plus, the mistakes made can’t be forgotten.
“It was a good start to our year in terms of win/lose column, but we are pretty disappointed with how we came out and played,” he said. “But we’ll learn from that and hopefully we’ll start better on Saturday.”
Helping his team put the Demon Deacons behind them and zero in on the Rams is Nassib’s priority now.
Despite the mostly stagnant offensive showing a week ago, the quarterback has faith there won’t be the case come the weekend.
“We know what we can do,” Nassib said. “It’s just a matter of executing, getting out there and being really ready to go. We’re confident that we can make plays and move the balls down the field. We just really need to play a whole sixty minutes.”
When it comes to making plays, Bailey has excellent timing. Against WFU, he recorded the second 100-yard game of his career and scored the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter to force overtime. It is not a moment he’ll soon forget.
But like his teammates, he knows the team can’t afford to reach for a victory in the game’s waning moments against the Rams. The running back is taking Marrone’s message about starting early to heart.
“Everyone’s emotion, everyone’s intensity has to be high out of the gate,” Bailey said. That’s how we are going to start fast. Start fast is the message this week.”
Senior wide receiver Van Chew came alive in the deciding moments for the Orange last week, catching a passs to convert on the game-tying two-point conversion and the deciding in overtime.
He thinks Rhode Island will see a different Syracuse team that has now put their first game jitters behind them.
“Looking back at the tape, everyone was tight (against Wake),” he said. “That’s what happens (in the beginning). But by the end, we were doing okay.”
That will be the challenge for Syracuse this week, playing for sixty minutes on Saturday the way they did for 15 minutes on Thursday. They’ll possibly have to do so without junior cornerback Ri’Shard Anderson, senior safety Olando Fisher and senior defensive end Chandler Jones, who have all been ruled out of activity until further notice, making them unlikely to suit up against the Rams.
But after breaking the team’s home losing streak and being the talk of the Big East for a week, the Orange are prepared to show Rhode Island their first - and somewhat miraculous - victory of the season was no fluke.
Syracuse vs. Rhode Island, Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the Carrier Dome
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