Ryan Nassib may have been the starting quarterback for Syracuse in the annual Spring Game, but he knows all too well that he isn’t guaranteed that spot come fall.
Nassib was named SU’s starter early last spring, but then Greg Paulus arrived forcing him into a backup role. This year he may be competing with sophomore Charley Loeb, who proved he is worthy of a look from head coach Doug Marrone and his staff after Saturday’s Spring Game.
“I’m very happy with both players,” Marrone said. “We have to do an evaluation process. We have to look at the competition and then go ahead and name the starter. I’m happy with the progress of both quarterbacks.”
After 14 days of practice in which Marrone emphasized a downfield passing attack, the aerial game was the bright spot of this year’s Spring Game. The Orange stretched the field with six passing plays of 20 yards or more. Nassib and Loeb combined for 400 yards through the air and four touchdowns in front of 4,752 fans at the Carrier Dome. SU’s offense beat out the defense 66-58.
Early on it was Loeb who looked more comfortable in the pocket and confident with his throws. He came in for the third series of the game and made an immediate impact. On first pass attempt, he threw a lofted ball deep down the right side to hit Marcus Sales in stride for a 39-yard gain.
The Orange scored touchdowns in three of Loeb’s first four possessions.
“Charley (Loeb) looked real good,” Syracuse wide receiver Marcus Sales said. “He’s been looking good the whole spring ball. He’s been consistent with the long ball and the short ball.”
Sales was the beneficiary of Loeb’s strong play throughout the game. He hauled in eight passes from the sophomore quarterback for a game-high 158 yards and two scores. Their connection was highlighted by 55-yard catch and run on the fourth possession of the game.
After a slow opening half the first-team offense came out with touchdowns on its initial two possessions, and Nassib played a hand in both. His 37-yard connection with wide receiver Van Chew set up an Antwon Bailey rushing touchdown. Then on his next possession he found Alec Lemon off a play-action fake for a 40-yard score.
“We are just working some new plays to get to get some deep throws and that can pose some different threats and that has been a big change this year,” Nassib said.
That is something Orange fans can look forward to after last year’s passing offense ranked last in the Big East in yards per completion. Paulus and Nassib barely averaged 200 yards per game through the air.
If the downfield passing attack is successful, it should open up more holes for SU’s talented running backs. With Delone Carter missing the game due to suspension, Bailey and Collier filled in nicely. The pair combined for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
“Syracuse has usually been a run first team so when we are going down the field it opens up the run game,” Bailey said. “That helps us in every way.”
If and when Carter returns to the team, he will bring with him 1,048 rushing yards from last season. That gives the Orange a trio of talented running backs on which Marrone can rely.
And although the offense won on the scoreboard, numbers weren’t the most important part of this game. In fact, the most valuable to take away from this game could have been zero, the number of injuries SU sustained.
“We came out injury free…We came out healthy and that’s the goal. I thought the players were competitive. How we worked out there today on the field, I’m satisfied with.”