Second-year Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone suddenly has the Orange above the .500 mark and one win away from earning its first bowl bid since 2004. This weekend, Rutgers is the latest obstacle standing in the way of Syracuse's return to the post season.
Coming off a loss
The Orange dropped last week's game to Louisville by a count of 28-20 after pulling off two straight upset victories on the road against Cincinnati and West Virginia.
"We weren't able to capitalize at times during the game and it was a very competitive football game, a game that could have gone either way," Marrone said on the weekly Big East teleconference. "We came up on the short end of it. We have to get back to work. We knew going into the season, we were going to have to fight and scratch for everything in each game."
Despite winning two of its last three games, the Orange have lost quite a few players to injury.
"We're at a point where we're banged up quite a bit and we're going to have play well to beat Rutgers," said Marrone. "…Rutgers is a very good football team in all three phases. I think we'll be challenged in each of those three phases but from a special teams standpoint, they do a great job and that will be a big challenge for us."
Taking its toll
Rutgers isn't the only team whose roster has been affected by injuries as Syracuse has also felt those same effects. But with less depth than the Scarlet Knights, Marrone faces an even greater challenge through his final three games.
"We're running out of bodies," he confessed. "We're banged up. Last year going into the last game, we wound up losing two kids within a series and if we didn't get a first down, we were going to have to put someone in that really never played that position and you really don't want to do that. And we're at that stage now. Last week, our right tackle was injured. He was out for the game. …And we had to play Andy Phillips at tackle who has probably only played about twenty snaps in his career."
Yet, Marrone knew before the start of the season that he would have to contend with such a challenge.
"It's going to be very challenging and I knew that going in and I talked about it all year about how we're managing the players and managing the practices. We have to manage this football team because I knew that the numbers were going to start getting low as the season progressed. It is what it is and we have to fight through it."
Cuse has enjoyed quite a bit of success on the road this season, posting a 4-1 record away from the Carrier Dome.
"We've been very fortunate on the road," said Marrone. "Our defense has forced turnovers and we've been able to take advantage of it more so on the road. I think a lot of people look into it home and away, but we've been practicing well and really playing hard. …I look at it more as what the game's about and the games on the road we've been able to force turnovers and take advantage of it."
Getting after the QB
Last season, Syracuse was able to breeze past Rutgers on the strength of a fervent pass rush which resulted in 9 quarterback sacks for the Orange defense. Marrone is likely to attempt to do much of the same on Saturday by throwing plenty of blitzes at the RU offense.
"Every football team in the country, when a team goes back to pass, would like to get to the quarterback," said Marrone. "I don't think we're any different from that. I think we have to look at what they're doing and what they're trying to do and see what kind of plan we can put together to stop it."
The recruiting game
Syracuse's recruiting has managed to drop down a few notches during the dark ages better known as the Greg Robinson era. New Jersey is one major area where Robinson lost a foothold. However, Marrone is hoping to regain ground when it comes to recruiting the Garden State.
"I think we have to do a better job of recruiting in New Jersey," he said. "I think we haven't done a very good job in years past since Coach Pasqualoni and Coach DeLeone left because they had such a good foundation and good relationships in New Jersey. We've been fighting to get back that foundation. We have three coaches now in the state of New Jersey and we all go in there and we all have parts of it."
Marrone also claimed that he doesn't feel as though Saturday's game is a must-win as far as recruiting is concerned.
"We just try to sell our school on what we have to offer. I don't really look at is if we win, we get kids. I think schools are who they are. They get the kids they should get."
Despite his team's early season success, Marrone isn't expecting to bump up his recruiting in New Jersey simply because of a few wins.
"It doesn't happen overnight. We've done a lot of clinics, we've spent a lot of time within the state and we're doing the best we can to rebuild the relationships, looking for it to pay benefits down the road for us. But to say you're going to go in right away and have that area and get kids that you shouldn't get, that's not going to happen."