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Syracuse is unbeaten yet undermanned
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Syracuse is right where every team hopes to be _ undefeated heading into the third week of the season. It's a long road until the finale at Pittsburgh in December, though, and injuries might make it a serious drag at times.
Like on Saturday when the Orange visit Southern California (2-0).
"We're excited to be 2-0. We're not excited how we got to 2-0," coach Doug Marrone said Monday. "We made some mistakes, obviously, in the past two games, and we're looking forward to an opportunity of going out to the West Coast and play a great football team."
The Orange might be a bit more enthused about their first road trip of the season if they were healthier. Marrone said senior defensive end Chandler Jones, who had 9.5 tackles for loss in 2010 and is the rock of the unit, and senior strong safety Olando Fisher would miss their second straight game, while junior cornerback Ri'Shard Anderson remains doubtful.
All three sat out Saturday's harder-than-expected 21-14 win over Rhode Island.
"Hopefully, next week we get a good report," Marrone said, "and get the players back."
Injuries _ and necessity _ have forced Marrone to utilize younger, inexperienced players, and they've weathered much adversity in two games. Syracuse had to rally from a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Wake Forest before winning in overtime, then barely held on to beat Rhode Island, a team that plays at college football's second level.
"We're not good enough not to enjoy a victory, and that's the one thing that's important for our players," Marrone said after Saturday's win. "I've been in this business long enough when if you walk out of here and you hang your head after a win, you're not going to be in this business for too long."
Against the Rams on another warm late-summer evening in the stuffy Carrier Dome, freshman linebacker Dyshawn Davis left the game with cramps and finished with only three tackles after making eight in the opener. He had company on the bench in Jeremi Wilkes, second on the depth chart at free safety.
Good fortune or not so good, Marrone shrugged when asked about his young lineup.
"Defensively, we've been playing a lot of players, which is going to help us," he said. "Those players have all progressed well. It just goes to show that those guys are ready to play, and they're getting better week to week."
Entering the season, the Orange offense was expected to carry the load and quarterback Ryan Nassib has been stellar. In his second year as the starter, the senior matched a school record with 29 completions against Rhode Island, throwing for a career-high 318 yards and three scores.
That earned Nassib his second straight Big East honor roll recognition, and he's clearly settled in nicely as the starter since Greg Paulus beat him out for the role in 2009, Marrone's first year at Syracuse.
Consider this: Nassib has thrown for three scores in three straight games with just one interception and is 62 for 88 passing. He has a 70.6-percent completion average to go along with 735 yards. And he ranks fifth on Syracuse's career touchdown passing record list with 28.
More importantly, perhaps, has been Nassib's performance in the clutch. In the second half of the first two games, he completed 27 of 32 passes, including an 8-of-8 performance in the fourth quarter and overtime against Wake Forest, and a 5-for-5 effort on the game-winning drive vs. Rhode Island.
Nassib, however, was sacked three times by the FCS Rams.
"We've got to get better up front," Marrone said. "That's the main area as far as the offensive side of the ball. I do realize that we have a lot of things to catch up on. It's always good to make corrections after a win. We need to start making those corrections and grow and get better week to week."
Notes: Syracuse junior free safety Phillip Thomas was named Big East defensive player of the week. Thomas became the second Syracuse player in as many seasons to intercept two passes in a game on Saturday. Linebacker Doug Hogue did it last year against West Virginia. ... Syracuse is one of four 2-0 Big East teams, joining West Virginia, South Florida and Pitt.
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