Syracuse @ Washington – The Huskies take a look in the mirror

When you invoke the name of Syracuse University, usually, it’s basketball that comes to mind. The ageless legend of Jim Boheim and awe inspiring teams such as the 2003 national champions led by Carmello Anthony. And of course the ultimate multi sport arena that is the Carrier Dome.

What is hardly known to the mainstream sports fan, is that Syracuse should probably be more thought of because of their storied football past, with national championships in the 50’s, and obviously producing players to the likes of Jim Brown, Marvin Harrison and Donovan McNabb.

Now a days, Syraucse football is a punch line. How the mighty have fallen.

Wait a minute, this sounds familiar doesn’t it? In fact, if it weren’t for the completely different color and jersey scheme that the Orange will feature on Saturday, I just might confuse them with the Huskies I’ll be rooting for.

The Husky basketball team is coming off of two consecutive Pac-1o championship seasons, while the football team is coming off of five combined wins in the last two years.

It is incredibly eerie how much that Syraucse and Washington have in common.

Expectations wise, things couldn’t be more similar either. The Orange are coming off a 4-8 campaign in 2009 that most would call a success for the team coming off of Greg Robinson’s futility. Very similar to the Dawgs 5-7 run after Willingham’s 0-12 disaster.

Now, both teams are thinking and dreaming big, and for them, big means a bowl game of any kind. And undeniably, both teams have circled this big OoC game on their schedules as ones they are confident in winning on their path to those goals and dreams.

Despite the BYU setback, the over whelming opinion in Husky Nation is a condescending one that the Orange should get smashed and that this is our gimme home win of the year.

To the contrary my friends, to the contrary.  Marrone’s group will be every bit of a test as to where this Washington program really stands in 2010 as Nebraska will next week. Why? Because it’s a look in the mirror. It’s a gut check. How bad do the Huskies REALLY want this? Because the team on the other side has every bit as much to prove.

So, let’s delve in to the match up:

Last meeting: Washington traveled to the Carrier Dome for the opener in 2007, which was also the debut of Jake Locker. The Dawgs ran rampant all over the Orange, with a 42-14 rout. Locker ran for a pair of touchdowns and seemed to be a natural in Lappano’s spread attack. The Savior had arrived. Well, there’s no need to hash out what has happened in the program since. However, this last meeting might serve a little bit to most Husky fans’ notion of a guaranteed victory.

What Syracuse brings to the table: Doug Marrone comes from a passing philosophy when he was in New Orleans, but when it comes to Syracuse, the strength of their team is running the football. The Huskies will get a heavy dose of Delone Carter, a 1000 yard rusher last season who put up 91 on Akron last week. Under center, coach Marrone will unleash Ryan Nassib. Nassib was a question mark for the Orange coming into the season but had an impressive 200+ yard passing performance last week while contributing 46 yards on the ground. He’ll be similar to what the Huskies saw in Riley Nelson last week. The Orange will likely be methodical on offense, who feature a pair of good possession targets for Nassib in TE Nick Provo and WR Alec Lemon. Ball control could be a problem for Washington if Syracuse is able to execute.

Defensively, the Orange bring a lot more front seven experience than Washington with an experienced defensive line that averaged nearly 3 sacks a game last season, along with two Senior linebackers in Darrell Smith and Doug Hogue. The UW Offensive line particularly struggled last week to string together consistency for Chris Polk and pass protection for Locker. They can’t afford to make the same mistakes against this Syracuse front, and it could be concerning that freshman Erik Kohler and Colin Porter will be seeing their first game action this week. In the secondary there are plenty of question marks for the Orange, so we’ll see if the Locker-Kearse connection can create big plays like they did last week.

What Washington needs to do: It is absolutely imperative for this hapless Washington defense to get some pressure upfront and pressure Ryan Nassib. Last week the UW defense made Jake Heaps look like a riled up veteran making clutch plays. He missed a couple throws, but that was more due to nerve than a Husky defender in his face, which quite frankly is sad. Because a true freshman getting action in his first game could have spelled opportunity for the Huskies, but, it didn’t. Consistency on offense will be another. The Washington offense was big play or bust last week. Chris Polk and Locker were solid, as was Kearse. But when push came to shove, the Huskies couln’t even get two yards when it mattered the most. It’s great that Locker can go down field, but can Locker throw an inside slant to get a first down on 3rd and 4? Can the offensive line step up to push Syracuse around on 3rd and 1 and make room for Polk?

Prediction: Syracuse won’t be the pushover that many expect. Are they BYU good? Probably not. They’re still a growing program with a good coach who is increasing the talent level there every year. I expect Washington to get off to a slow start and to get stymied offensively a little bit. But when push comes to shove, the Huskies will get the big plays on both sides of the ball when they need it. The Huskies need this more and to drop a home game of this calibur would be to pretty much pack it in and call it a season.

Washington 28 Syracuse 20