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Going six with Orange::44

Here's my Q&A with Brian from Orange::44, the other half should be available there. Unlike with the last one with The UConn Blog, I didn't fantasize about destroying East Brunswick with nuclear weapons (this time at least, no guarantees for the future) or savage Lil' Jovi, although I kept looking for an in there.

How do you assess Doug Marrone's first season as head coach? How has he and the Orange football team fared by your expectations going into the season?

It is truly tough to answer this question because this team Syracuse currently has is not the team we started with. Through various circumstances including players quitting and injuries Syracuse is a shell of its former self, losing over 20 players since the season began. None more impactful than Mike Williams for the offense and Arthur Jones on the defense. These two players were excellent as Jones anchored the best rush defense in the conference, and Mike Williams led the conference in reception yards. Losing both players is a huge loss for Syracuse. So it truly is impossible to say if the team is living up to expectations. I myself predicted a five win season, but that was judging by the talent we had. Therefore I suppose with the team we currently have, and I don’t expect another win, they are right on par with my expectations. Before that, they started the season very well, looking much improved from the Greg Robinson era, passing the eyeball test. They were just slightly underperforming their first couple of Big East games, but in general they were right about where they should be for the talent level on the team.

As for Marrone, while he has made some rookie mistakes along the way, overall he is exactly what the program needed. He is a hard ass with rules, and is an alumnus of Syracuse University. Oh yeah, and he seems to be able to recruit, which as everyone knows is one of the biggest keys to college football. Plus, as stupid as this sounds, realizes that to be able to tackle in a game you have to tackle in practice. Something Greg Robinson never got. Like the fan base, I am overall very pleased with Marrone as coach, and what he has done with the program, especially restoring some old traditions that went by the wayside when Robinson took over.

Senior QB Greg Paulus has completed a high percentage of his passes this year, but hasn't amassed that many yards. and has a negative touchdown to interception ratio. His understudy, Ryan Nassib, has shown a stronger arm, and is the presumed heir apparent next year. Who should be starting under center, and compounded by Mike Williams leaving the team, is there enough of a supporting cast for either guy to make plays?

As of right now this is Delone Carter’s offense. However, at this point because Syracuse is now bowl ineligible and the team is just north of running an Iron Man squad, I have to say that Nassib should be put in under center. The Greg Paulus Experiment was fruitful, and we certainly were kept in games in the beginning of the season we probably would not have been, but now is the time to get ready for next year. Nassib is more of a true pocket passer, and is tougher than Paulus, along with a more powerful arm. Paulus has been accurate and I don’t think you can say his playing was a failure for Syracuse despite the interception numbers. Without question he played better than most "experts" thought he would, and he created buzz for the SU Football program again, which was good. However, now is the time where you can get Nassib some true game experience, and see how he reacts under pressure in a situation where no one expects Syracuse to win. He could respond really well. However I have a feeling Marrone will let Paulus finish out the year, get his graduate degree, and move along.

On a positive note, Delone Carter looks to be having a good statistical year at tailback. I saw some of the Louisville game last week, and was impressed. I've read about breakout campaigns on defense from the likes of Derrell Smith, Doug Hogue, and Shamarko Thomas. Any other immediate positive signs that only those who follow the program know about?

For the last five years, the truly terrible part of the Syracuse team has been the offensive line. While there were rocky moments this season, the line generally has been good and has shown improvement in every game. While Delone Carter is a good back by himself, without the offensive line making holes for him, he can’t run. Additionally they have given Paulus and Nassib time to make throws when they have open targets, which Syracuse has had a lot of trouble with the last few years. I can’t express exactly how much this group has improved in words, because it is night and day better than the past few seasons. Doug Marrone was an offensive lineman, and his personal tutelage is clearly evident, along with the coaching staff he has hired. This is one of the most improved groups on the field for Syracuse this year.

If there's a key to this game, I think it's going to be the line play. Both teams give up a lot of sacks on offense, and get after the quarterback a lot on defense. With Rutgers, the strength of the defense is with the front seven, and Coach Schiano has always loved to blitz. It seemed like the defense played well against the 'Ville; does the DL have the depth to at least be passable without Arthur Jones? How confident are you in the OLine?

The offensive line should be able to hold off Rutgers as well as they have been in the previous Big East games Syracuse has played. They will allow a few sacks, but not an outrageous number. The true test is if Syracuse is able to protect the QB’s blind side, as that is what caused turnovers in the Louisville contest. While Louisville is not exactly known for their running ability, Syracuse should find similar success with Rutgers. Syracuse is now playing for pride, and it is also Senior Day, so there will be added motivation for Syracuse to stop the run as they have all season. The simple fact is that Syracuse’s run defense is solid and shouldn’t give up more than around 125 yards on the ground. The Syracuse secondary is a joke, and if Rutgers manages to have enough time to throw the ball, they should find success through the air, as every other team playing Syracuse has.

A lot of Syracuse fans have been critical of the athletic director Daryl Gross in recent years, which is understandable when he sold Greg Robinson as the next Pete Carroll. On one hand, the field at the Carrier Dome was renamed "Ernie Davis Legends Field", and Marrone seems eager to embrace the football program's tradition. However, Gross banished the hallowed #44 jersey into retirement. Is it just me, or is there a weird dichotomy going on here?

Gross (or DOCTOR Gross as he is playfully known in the SU Blogosphere) was definitely responsible for the retirement of the famed #44 and the hiring of Syracuse Public Enemy #1 Greg Robinson. I’m not sure if there is an actual dichotomy going on, or if it is just the fact that DOC Gross is a "west coast", USC type of guy, where as Marrone is one of us, knows the history of the program in and out, and has and always will love Syracuse. I have a feeling if the USC job opened up immediately Gross would be on the first plane to California. While I was never for the retirement of #44, I think if the previous athletic director, who was at the school from 1978 to 2005, did it we could have tolerated it because by then he was one of us. This guy literally flies in and a half a year later he retires the most iconic thing about the SU Football Program. I think that this would probably upset any fan base, whether you agree with retiring the number or not. It’s completely a "who the hell do you think you are" kind of thing. The retiring of #44 was basically the first and biggest stunt in a long line of marketing ploys designed to bring fans in, despite the product they are featuring on the field. To add to your thirst for a conspiracy theory as well, Gross’ wife is the director of marketing, who really had no actual real world experience when she arrived at Syracuse as simply Gross’ babysitter for his previous wife. The true and complete story is one I have written about before if you are inclined to dig deeper. Needless to say most of the things Gross does could possibly be well intentioned but usually miss the mark significantly. Meanwhile, Marrone is an alumnus, former player, and other than some small coaching issues is doing the right thing by most people’s eyes. I’m going to defer to his judgment for most situations.

Years have gone by, and I still can't get over my burning hatred of volume shooter Gerry McNamara and his sub-40% field goal percentage. Sorry, but I just had to get that out there. To make up for that, on a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you for the upcoming Red Nicholas era in Piscataway starting in 2010?

Aww, why you gotta hate on GMac like that? Overrated? I’m afraid not friends. I think when Quincy Douby closes his eyes he sees Gerry McNamara hitting a three. All kidding aside I’ll give you the friendly answer and say a 7 on the excitement level. It is never a bad thing when a Rutgers or a Seton Hall gets good players as it makes the overall conference better, and it certainly makes a more meaningful win for Syracuse when they play (ZIIIIIIING). Plus, Syracuse fans haven’t really gotten to make fun of a ginger in the Big East, so this will be an absolute treat. He seems like a sold player as well, so that is good that Fred can finally get a good player to come his way. Sadly though Syracuse should have a top 5 recruiting class in the country for that year, so tell Fred to strap in because it’s still going to be a bumpy ride both in the Carrier Dome and at the RAC for Rutgers playing Syracuse. Also, in case you weren’t aware, Gerry McNamara is a graduate assistant with our team this year, so look for him on the sidelines. I’m sure he’ll fill some more of your nightmares in the coming season. Keep in mind I’m only hitting you hard on basketball because I am doubtful that Syracuse can pull this upset this Saturday on the gridiron.

Thanks again to Brian for answering my questions.