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Syracuse's Marrone still upbeat despite 0-2 start

Associated Press Modified: September 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm •  Published: September 10, 2012
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Say this about Syracuse: At least the Orange are consistent.

Two games and two losses into the season, they've allowed 84 points — 42 each to Northwestern and No. 2 Southern California.

If coach Doug Marrone is concerned, though, he's not showing it.

"I feel comfortable where we are," Marrone said Monday on the Big East conference call. "We played two excellent opponents. Northwestern is a 2-0 team having beaten an SEC team. Obviously, USC, everyone understands the type of team they are.

"From the direction we're going, we feel very good. The thing we need to improve on is the early part of the game, of really settling in to what we're doing. We have to do a better job offensively early in the game and get ourselves going quicker. We haven't done that."

In losing two games — 42-41 to the Wildcats, who beat Vanderbilt 23-13 on Saturday, and 42-29 to the Trojans — Syracuse has been outscored 35-16 in the first half, won the third quarter 27-21 and lost the fourth 28-27.

Still, much to the surprise of most, the Orange were in the game against the Trojans heading to the fourth quarter on Saturday at rain swept MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.

After falling behind 21-3, Syracuse responded with a 12-play, 78-yard drive without a huddle, capped by Ryan Nassib's 3-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Sales. On the next play from scrimmage, Shamarko Thomas intercepted USC quarterback Matt Barkley at midfield and Prince-Tyson Gulley's 7-yard touchdown run moved Syracuse within 21-16 with 3:42 left in the third.

The Trojans pulled away late behind their NFL-bound stars. All-American receiver Robert Woods was spectacular with 200 all-purpose yards and two scores. Barkley threw for six touchdowns, the most by an opponent against the Orange since they began playing the game in 1889. And wideout Marqise Lee caught 11 passes and had three touchdowns.

"We need to be there right out of the gate," Syracuse offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said, "so we can see if that will make us better."

Syracuse does have playmakers of its own, and they've been clicking despite the losses. Nassib passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a score against USC, and in two games, he is 75 of 112 (67 percent) for 804 yards. What's more, the offense, overall, has generated 1,051 yards.

Nassib's performance against USC boosted his career passing yardage total to 6,245, third all-time at Syracuse behind Marvin Graves (8,466) and Donovan McNabb (8,389), and Nassib's 50 touchdown passes rank second to McNabb (77).

Sales caught two scores against the Trojans and finished with 104 yards receiving. In two games, he has 20 receptions for 233 yards, and has three straight 100-yard games dating to the Pinstripe Bowl in December 2010.

Sales was a missing link last fall, suspended the entire year after an arrest with his older brother on drug charges. The charges against Sales were dropped last October after a grand jury did not find enough evidence to charge him with drug possession, and he was allowed to rejoin the team.

Alec Lemon, the team's leading receiver last year, made his first appearance Saturday after being hampered by a hamstring pull. He had five catches for 34 yards. He left New Jersey encouraged despite the outcome.

"We put up a good fight against them," Lemon said. "We lost the game, but we feel great about what we did. Coming up, we know what we can do in 10 more games."

Forgetting the last seven might be the biggest task. The Orange haven't won a game in nearly a year, having finished 2011 on a five-game skid. The next obstacle is Stony Brook (2-0), fresh from a confidence-building 77-7 win over Division II Pace. Stony Brook is competing for one final season in the Big South, where it has won three straight conference championships, and will then join the Colonial Athletic Association, one of the strongest leagues in the Football Championship Subdivision.

In his first three seasons at his alma mater, Marrone might have been somewhat more concerned about an 0-2 start than he is now.

"My concerns would be if we weren't playing hard, if we weren't doing what we should do," Marrone said. "The first two games, we're getting a lot of effort. The mistakes that we're making are correctable. We're going at it 110 percent.

"We feel the opponents that come in to play us realize that they have to be at the top and give us their best."