kcleach's Blog

Syracuse women battle identity fraud

Orange have more variations this season than the unpredictable Onondaga County weather, which was above 50 degrees in December and is plunging to single digits this weekend.

Basketball success flows not just with the SU men this season. The Orange women are 13-1, have already achieved a national ranking and are eschewing individual accolades in favor of victories.

After racing to the program’s best start in over 30 years against a grab bag of non-conference opponents, SU is two games into the true test of success: Big East Conference play. Queen Connecticut, Princess Notre Dame (ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively) and a roundtable full of basketball knights dot Syracuse’s trek to a third straight postseason bid.

As road gets bumpier and the battles more fierce, an Orange identity question remains. Is it an army led by a pair of four-star generals (three-time All-Big East swing Nicole Michael and guard Erica Morrow) with talented lieutenants (power guard Juanita Ward and savvy point Tasha Harris)? Is it a strength-in-numbers approach with mass substitutions and a short leash by the coaching staff? Is the Orange best when running-and-gunning up the floor? Is suffocating defense the Syracuse sword in the stone?

Halftime Snack looks at what’s working for Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman and his 2009-10 Orange riders:

Give up thy self. In his words, Hillsman wants basketball simplicity and, in turn, the action of the team is proving the theory. The SU women are subbed into the game in droves and play in survival mode. The list of unselfish traits: active defensively (seven players have over 10 steals this season) and forced turnovers, tenacious rebounding (SU gets 14.3 more rebounds than opponents, ranking second in country as of Jan. 3), running for the easy baskets, diving for loose balls, and then galloping to the bench for high-fives from everyone, all the way down to the equipment guy.

More is better. Hillsman wears out the substitution horn: 10 players average over 13-plus minutes per game. On more than one occasion, Hillsman pulled the starters in the first couple minutes of the game. Message sent, motivation enhanced. The Orange players are hungry to get in the game and stay in the game. Come on, didn’t you know that competition will breed success?

Get the tough rebound. In the conference opener Jan. 2, the Orange women rallied from 10 points down to force overtime against Georgetown before the Hoyas (off to their best start since 1979-80) squeaked out the 83-81 victory.  The kids were a little upset with our last game when we lost in front of our home crowd,” Hillsman told SUathletics.com. The Orange missed that shot (insult to injury: Hoyas took over Cuse’s spot in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25), and grabbed the carom: Cuse blew out Seton Hall on the road, 79-38, three days later. The 41-point margin of victory was the largest for SU in its Big East tenure. Knocked down? Get back up.

Versatility in spades. Michael, a pre-season Wooden National Player of the Year candidate, has seen her minutes dwindle (26.8 per game last season to 23.9 in 2009-10) but is posting similar numbers (14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds per game with 21 steals). Sometimes asked to step outside as a guard, the 6-foot, 2-inch Michael (right) has dramatically improved her 3-point shooting. A career 31 percent maker from beyond the arc, she is hitting on nearly 44 percent of her deep shots this season (already sinking a career-high 32 triples). The next Ms. Versatile Orange is already in uniform: Tyler Ash, a sophomore forward, played at both the shooting guard and the point guard versus Dartmouth. Defensively, she got her hands on a pair of passes at the top of the zone, leading to easy SU layups.

Share the wealth. Hillsman has been on campus long enough to know the SU men’s formula for continued success: a 2-3 zone defense. Hillsman has implemented the same defense, yet demands more of his women than his better known counterpart does of the gentlemen. The SU women always have hands up and in the passing lanes, the center at the back of the zone never stops talking and the defense is often extended with the goal of increasing a lead (the men extend pressure only when trailing on the scoreboard). Full- or three-quarter court pressure at different intervals in the game have been effective at keeping the opposition out of a rhythm (not to mention generating those easy lay-ups).

Defense is the best offense. If a player isn't playing defense, she's not playing at all. Thru Jan. 3, the Orange ranked second in Division I in field goal percentage defense (their opponents shot just 31.5%), third in fewest fouls committed (12.8 per game) and 14th in scoring defense (Cuse allowed just 52.7 points per game). Simplicity: can’t win if you can’t score.

The last one is the most stable leg for Hillsman and the Orange women to stand on. Good defense leads to easy offense. Control what you can control. 

After tasting what the Ivy League has to offer (Brown comes to the Dome on Jan. 10) the next Big East opponent for Syracuse is Rutgers, notorious for its physicality and swollen pride. Not an easy fight with just one sword.

Photo by Mitchell Franz, TheNewshouse.com

Panthers bring No. 5 Orange back to earth

The Pitt basketball team won for the fifth time in six trips to the Carrier Dome, and exposed the weaknesses of fifth-ranked Syracuse in the process.

No big names, no expectations and no fear. The defensive-minded Pittsburgh Panthers stalled the high-scoring Orange men’s basketball attack Saturday afternoon, and served up the first SU loss in the Dome since Halloween with a 82-72 Big East victory.

The two teams on the floor differed drastically from the respective schools' 2008-09 editions. Last year's Panthers bullied their way to the Elite Eight behind the talented trio of forward DeJuan Blair, wing Sam Young and point guard Levance Fields. Pitt was seconds from going to the 2009 Final Four before Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds dashed to one of the biggest shots in tournament history. Head coach Jamie Dixon’s charges this season are smaller, quicker, play textbook Big East basketball and have a strong record (12-2, 2-0 Big East).

Syracuse lost its three top scorers to the professional ranks, and as it’s been widely chronicled, the 2009-10 version is different, better even, than expected. The Orange (13-1, 1-1) is big, long and scores the basketball at will (Big East-best 87.7 points per game coming into Saturday).

After staging a 13-point comeback at Seton Hall on Dec. 29, the chinks in the Orange armor were too much to over come against Pittsburgh.

“Seton Hall bothered us a little bit, but they are not a defensive team,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. “They are an offensive team. Pittsburgh’s a tremendous defensive team. They always have been, and you have to match the physical nature of how they’re playing. We did not do that and you’re not going to win that kind of game.”

Predictable Syracuse opened the game with a heavy dose of its frontline, scoring 12 points in the paint to build a 20-12 lead. Senior Arinze Onuaku hit his first three shots and the crowd of nearly 25,000 was happy in the New Year.

Slowly, Pittsburgh inched closer, using offensive rebounds and 3-point shooting to close within 30-27 by halftime. The year stopped being happy.

Cuse made short-term resolutions at the break and extended the zone outside the arc in second half. The long-range shooting of Pitt was not to its advantage, and on the other side of the floor, height was in the Orange's favor.

The first change, a defensive one, did more harm than good. Extending the zone puts a higher premium on block-out assignments. On Pitt’s first possession of the half, the Panthers ran down an offensive rebound, and stripped the next missed shot out of Onuaku’s hands and scored a lay-up.

"The second half starts the story of the game,” said Boeheim. “Ricky (Jackson) had the ball and lost it, Arinze (Onuaku) had the ball and lost it, and they got two baskets and you can’t do that.”

Pittsburgh totaled 12 offensive rebounds on the afternoon, the second game in a row the Orange surrendered double-digit extra possessions. How does that happen with the front line Syracuse puts on the floor includes Johnson (fifth in the Big East in rebounding), and the massive pair of Onuaku and Rick Jackson? Lack of box outs. That’s the answer. It’s not enough to be big in this conference, because speed is just as effective.

“I said this on the first day that we are not rebounding as well as we need to,” Boeheim said following the game, “and that is what I’m saying when I say that.

Pitt guard Jamie Dixon hit a 3-pointer to put the Panthers up 43-34 with 15 minutes to go, part of a 25-8 Pitt run across the halves. The Orange counter on offense was to post up Wes Johnson. The forward showed little variation to his post game in the second half, and he succumbed to the physical play of the Panthers, shooting awkward jump hooks. On one play, Johnson got bumped, drawing a foul and a fake cheer went up at the Dome. The referees were not to blame on Saturday.

Boeheim, in an effort to speed the game up to the Orange liking, brought full-court pressure and mixed in half-court traps. The move created three quick turnovers, and Wes Johnson slipped by the Panthers for a pair of offensive putbacks to bring Cuse within two with 11:10 to go.

But then that plan backfired as well: Syracuse was unable to catch up with the Panthers in the backcourt, committing reach-in fouls that got Pittsburgh to the free throw line often. The Panthers were 26 for 36 while Syracuse was 15 for 23.

Free throw shooting was a hot topic Saturday: Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs made all four of his free throws, extending his school-record streak to 37 consecutive makes (the streak began Nov. 24 against Texas). Gibbs also hit six three-pointers on the afternoon to lead all scorers with 24 points.

“Defensively, we did a very good job in the first half except we didn’t find (Ashton) Gibbs and Gibbs is their best three-point shooter,” Boeheim said. “You can’t allow that to happen.”

Simple things win Big East games. Simple things like rebounding and free throws.

Now that the Orange finally have that first loss, the team and its fans can stop preening around like the No. 1 seed is in hand. If you don’t put your hands up on defense, if you don’t turn and box out someone when a shot goes up, and if you leave the building down ten with three minutes left, you won’t get a spot in the national tournament.  

Coach Boeheim has the motivational capital now to wipe the stars from his team’s eyes, and get them to play like Pittsburgh.

Wes Johnson, who led the Orange with 19 points, is already leading the charge: “A lot of teams aren't going to lay down just because we are ranked highly," he said. "It's Syracuse basketball so it is going to force us to go out and show these teams that we mean business."

Follow NewsHouseSports on Twitter for live game updates and the latest Orange news.

Orange basketball drives to win at Seton Hall

The top scoring teams in Big East raced up court Tuesday on a New Jersey Turnpike reckless trip. Cruising in the car lane was the Seton Hall Pirates; over in the truck lane powered fifth-ranked Syracuse.

Take the truck lane, if you’re on the turnpike. And ride with a Texan who knows high-speed.

Corsicana, Tex. native Wes Johnson is driving a big shiny rig of a basketball game for Syracuse these days, and the forward supplied a 20-point, 19-rebound package in a 80-73 Orange win at Seton Hall’s new shiny home court at the Prudential Center.

Syracuse zooms to 13-0, 1-0 Big East, while the Pirates are curbed in their second consecutive Big East loss, and fall to 9-3, 0-2 in conference.

SHU guard Jeremy Hazell is a mile-a-minute talent, tallying over half his team’s points (38) with a game-high five steals. The rest of the Pirate traffic got held up in the holiday travel, making just four shots. Forward Herb Pope was the only other SHU player in double figures, posting a double-double with 15 points and 17 boards.

The first Big East road game for the Orange was a bumpy affair.

The Orange cut across early Seton Hall pressure for consecutive three-pointers by Johnson and Andy Rautins in the first half. Rautins connected again from beyond the arc after a Pirate turnover, putting the Orange out front, 18-12, near the 13-minute mark.

Both teams had fits of reckless driving early. The Seton Hall guards sliced the top of the Orange zone, drawing the SU big men on defensive rotation. The breakdown led to easy offensive putbacks for Seton Hall, and combined with 11 Orange first-half turnovers, kept the home team within four points, 20-16 with less than twelve minutes to play.

The Pirates amassed 25 offensive boards on the night, including 14 in the first half. Combine the easy lay-ups with an unconscious shooting guard, and a recipe for upset became possible.

The shifty Hazell lifted a charging SU defender with a pump fake on the wing and then sank a deep three pointer. More Orange turnovers fueled an 11-0 Seton Hall run, and the Pirates held the 27-22 lead after a Hazell breakaway layup.

The Pirates’ penetration against the top of the ‘Cuse zone created more problems, this time on the wing. SHU’s Jordan Theodore zoomed into the paint on one possession before spitting a pass out to Hazell. He again pump-faked an SU player off his feet, this time Kris Joseph, and took one dribble before nailing another three-pointer.  Hazell then got loose on a run-out and converted the lay-in for a 36-27 lead with 5:30 to go, pushing his scoring total to 17.

The Pirates extended the lead out to 41-29 before SU righted its path with the play of backup guards Scoop Jardine and Mookie Jones. The pair combined for eight points as the Orange closed the half on a 14-2 run; Jones corralled an offensive rebound and dropped the ball in the hoop to tie the contest at 43 going into the intermission.

The second half saw the SHU car get stuck in traffic while the Orange line steamed to new heights. Pope slammed home two points at 12:56 to put the Pirates ahead, 57-51, but Seton Hall was riding with no hands on the wheel.

Johnson (pictured above) hitched his teammates to his back, igniting a 15-0 Orange run with a jumper and a twisting lay-up. Johnson’s fly boy, Joseph, zoomed alongside, tallying six points in the run, including a highlight reel dunk from just inside the free throw line.

The Orange tightened up the loose parts it displayed in the first half, closing out the victory with free throws (13 for 15 in second half) and rebounds (25-20 edge in the stanza). The Pirates would close to within three points with 31 seconds left, but a long inbounds pass to Joseph sealed Cuse’s fourth straight win over Seton Hall.

Syracuse warmed the Big East truck up and headed back north. The Pittsburgh Panthers await the Orange on the other side of the New Year.

The decade began with a 10-game winning streak and ended with a 13-win run. Keep on truckin’, Orange.


Photo by Jamie De Pould, TheNewshouse.com

Orange you glad it's basketball season

The Syracuse women are 9-0 for the first time since 1974-75, have a national ranking and are now beating NCAA tournament teams.

The Orange (9-0) limited Dartmouth (2-5), the defending Ivy League champion, to 28 percent shooting in a 56-42 victory Sunday afternoon in the Carrier Dome for its 19th consecutive non-conference victory.


Ash is, Ash is, All Fall Down – Orange freshman Tyler Ash, listed as a 6-foot-2 inch guard, has mostly seen time in the post this season. But as he promised in the pre-season, Orange head coach Quentin Hillsman is expanding the role of the Liverpool, N.Y. native: Ash played at shooting guard, point guard and her normal forward spot versus Dartmouth Sunday, and was disruptive at the top of the zone, tipping a pair of passes that led to Orange fast breaks (too bad the box score did not reflect Ash’s efforts in the steal column).

Juan in A Million!: Temple brought inner-city rival Villanova back to Earth Sunday afternoon, as guard Juan Fernandez drilled seven 3-pointers to lead the Owls to a 74-65 upset of the No. 3 Wildcats. ‘Nova had lost just one Big Five game (the city rivalry between the five Division I basketball programs) the last five years – a streak of 23 games -- ironically its last loss was also to Temple. Fernandez, an Argentine, shot an air ball on his first attempt before reeling off 17 points in the first half. Read the account filed by Joe Juliano of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Power Play: Possibly the three most influential people on the Hill sat on the baseline for Sunday’s game with Dartmouth, amongst barely 300 fans. SU Athletic Director Daryl Gross, men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim, and university chancellor Nancy Cantor sprinkled among family and colleagues. A pecking order follie nearly occurred as Boeheim trips over the ropes set up to keep fans away from media row. Gross sees Boeheim stumble, the coach points back at Gross to get it fixed and after Gross alerts Cantor, the coach switches up and waves a hearty goodbye. All is good with both basketball teams unblemished heading into finals week.

GOOD GAMBLE?: The SU department of athletics has dropped the curtain that divides the basketball court setup from the rest of the expansive Carrier Dome. The reason: Three massive advertisements cover the seating at the far end of the facility, enticing fans to think about planning their next trip to the Turning Stone Casino and Resort. The NCAA is so confusing. Don’t Bet On It, but we can make money off of it. Read the column by Mike Waters of the Post-Standard, it's got some great quotes.


"I'd like to say I told (his Temple squad) something really profound but it was just dropping a couple of [obscenities] and saying, 'What are we doing? What are we thinking about here?’” –Temple head coach Fran Dunphy divulged his timeout speech after beating No. 3 Villanova Sunday afternoon

“Here’s a bit of good news for Dallas: by the time (the season finale with Philadelphia) arrives, it will be January.” --Bob Costas, when lamenting on the December woes of the Cowboys

Slick Rick livens Orange dance

Syracuse post Rick Jackson hosted his own coming-out party Thursday night in Tampa, Fla., two-stepping around the basket like that famous Philadelphia high school pivot.

Orange forward Rick Jackson did his best Wilt Chamberlain impersonation, posting a career-best 21 points to go along with a team-high 13 rebounds in No. 6 Syracuse’s 85-73 win over No. 11 Florida in the SEC/Big East Challenge.

“(The Gators) were doubling Arinze (Onuaku) and they were focusing on Andy and Wes,” Jackson told Donna Ditota of The Post-Standard. “I just felt like they forgot about me. So I just had to take advantage of it.” Check out Ditota’s coverage.

Simple basketball is the Orange mantra in 2009-10, starting the offense by feeding the post before working the ball outside for jumpers or dribble-drives. Admittedly, SU head coach Jim Boeheim views Jackson as one of the last options.

“I told Rick, ‘We’re not going to throw you the ball at all,’” said Boeheim on Thursday night, “just go get it.”

Jackson got his juice flowing on the backboards, accounting for seven of the 16 Orange offensive rebounds (game box score). “I just focus on rebounding. Every time it came off, it felt like I could get it.”

Jackson, a product of the Philadelphia high school Catholic League, has flourished this season under, and around, the rim. Similar (not a direct comparison, mind you) to the basketball ballet Chamberlain perfected generations ago, Jackson is using his southpaw semi-hook to keep shot blockers at bay. All the footwork before receiving the ball (finding holes in the defensive rotation and creating a wide target for passes) produces his high shooting percentage (66.1% thru Thursday night).

“He’s a sneaky left-hander,” said Boeheim. “He sneaks around under there.”

THEY SAID IT: “That’s why we can’t feel each other’s pulse,” said Charlie Coles head basketball coach at Miami (Ohio) during an inspirational pre-game speech to his team before facing Cincinnati on Thursday night.

“It's almost like he’s being guarded by Taylor Swift,” said Jimmy Dykes of ESPN about Rick Jackson during the SU/UF broadcast Thursday.

The little legend returns to his basketball home.

Fasten your seat belt, the flashy Allen Iverson returned to the city that loves him.

Fasten your seat belts the flash Allen Iverson returned to the city loves him.

The most fearless player in basketball history, Iverson skipped to Broad Street in a Philadelphia 76ers jersey Monday night against the Denver Nuggets. Divorced from the City of Brotherly Love franchise in 2007, His crossover, his speed and his scoring over 30 points per game) took rich round ball tradition in southeastern Pennsylvania all the way to the 2001 NBA Finals.

Historically a marked man recently stung by the rejection of NBA teams, was lent the holiday miracle of redemption. He returned the favor, kissing midcourt in the Wachovia Center floor. Once vilified for his lifestyle, Iverson brought his brand of entertainment back, a show of all shows. The building was full and everyone basketball fan was there, including SU alum Donovan McNabb.

“You gotta wind it up, bounce back. Do the rubber tree.” New song by Creed Bratton –yes Creed from Scranton, Pa., a paper guy in “The Office.” Halftime Snack was in Scranton this year.

A move made more for business; the 76ers are hurting at the ticket office (just over 3,000 at the previous home game) and Comcast, an ownership interest in both the 76ers and the Flyers, has just offered up a large stack of its cash for a little media company in Rockefeller Center.

Tickets needed to be sold, a headliner, a golden oldie, one more walk to remember.

The original A.I. hit double figures (11 points) and juiced up the A.I. with youthful legs (forward Andre Iguodala), who added to the performance with a, ho, hum, reverse two-handed jam. Igga-dolla-dolla-dolla (PA announcer Matt Cord’s rendition) ended the half by sinking a full-court heave. The buzzer went off, and the basket did not count. See the replay here.

Halftime Snack loves memories; the personal pictures hold not just 1,000 words, but 1,000 stories, conversations and moments.

In 2004, Allen Iverson walked by Halftime Snack in a Wachovia Center hallway, No. 3  jersey pulled on and trademark braids pulled out.

Nearly three hours before tip-off, the star was in the building.

“Check that out,” Halftime Snack was not shy about pointing at the long, black hair stretching halfway down the number on his back.

“It’s crazy, right?” Iverson said.

He walked down the hall way to see the hair stylist and later that night, ran past the Hornets for 55 points in a playoff win.

The Maine massacre and a whole lot more

The beginning of December and barely a sniff of snow in Syracuse. The basketball team is ranked in the top 10 and the football season continues again without the Orange. Deck the halls with boughs of holly.

Syracuse residents milled around Saturday afternoon staring at the gray skies, wondering why it was snowing in Pennsylvania and not in the Onondaga County. Beggars should not be choosers—just sit back and enjoy the hot Orange basketball team, 101-50 winners over visiting Maine.


MAINE MADNESS: Halftime Snack had serious déjà vu Saturday night as the Syracuse basketball team unleashed the dunk train on Maine. Throw-down displays of Midnight Madness proportions came from several of the Orange: forward Wes Johnson lifted off just inside the free-throw line on one break, guard Brandon Triche used two hands to put down an Arinze Onuaku miss, wing Kris Joseph wind-milled home another break, and Onuaku nearly brought down the basket support in the second half, bringing his knees to his chest on a Shaq-like finish.

SPECIAL ‘CATS: Big East Conference football jumped back into the national scene (i.e. the Bowl Championship Series) with the undefeated season posted by the Cincinnati Bearcats. All the key ingredients for unblemished college football mixed together for a Cincy team that stared at an early 31-10 deficit.  The final straw—a familiar stir in the 2009 SU Orange drink—came when Pitt botched the extra point on its final touchdown, giving the Bearcats the room to eek out the 45-44 win to post a 12-0 season (7-0 in conference for its second straight Big East title).

DOG DEBATE: The processed meat treat, wrapped up the a bun with a tin foil warmer, is a staple of the Carrier Dome sports experience. Some rapid ‘Cuse fans, like Webster, N.Y. resident Dan DiPaola, prefer to stop at Heid’s of Liverpool. “I’ve been going there since I was a 1-year-old; it’s a game-day tradition,” said DiPaola, a Webster, N.Y. native who has managed to keep his white Syracuse hoodie spotless for over five years. And what about the Dome dog? “There’s no comparison.”

FEMALE SCHOLARSHIP: Med student Sarah Beth Hill earned folk-hero status among a whole bunch of people Saturday night: women, college students, the Alabama football masses. Hill won $123,000 in scholarship money at halftime of the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, Ga., throwing more 10-yard football passes into an inflatable Dr. Pepper can than her male counterpart, Dan, an overzealous Florida fan. Hill, heel up and shoulder in, had a strategy  and it worked. Remember when Halftime Snack offered a strategy to get money for school?

THEY SAID IT: “I guess I stole something from my dad’s playbook.” —SU senior guard Andy Rautins, referencing his father, Leo, when asked about his 3/4-court bounce pass that led to an Orange dunk.

    “I can’t believe you asked that. I really can’t believe it. Let me see: Kentucky Wildcats, No. 4 in the country, I’m hearing four first-round draft choices. And you're asking me how that (game) got away from me. Why don’t you ask John (Calipari) why it was so close?” —an exasperated Charlie Coles, the Miami of Ohio basketball coach, after his Redhawks fell, 72-70, to the Wildcats Nov. 16.

Football Friday - Connecticut

The Orange (4-7, 1-5 Big East) plays its final game of the 2009 season at Connecticut (5-5, 1-4) on a wet track in an NFL-size stadium before a sold-out crowd. Any chance of victory rests on the SU running game.

Syracuse football comes to a close Saturday afternoon. Halftime Snack ushers out the old and looks ahead to the new.

FINAL ANSWER:  Syracuse graduate student-senior and local boy extraordinaire Greg Paulus will play his final collegiate game in Hartford, Conn. Saturday.  His previous final collegiate game, also in New England, was a basketball game in the NCAA basketball tournament this past March in Boston; Duke fell to Villanova, 77-54. Paulus played just 10 minutes and sank a three-pointer for his only points. The biggest game of Paulus' five-year college career came over two years ago, when the Blue Devils lost in the national championship semifinal against this same Connecticut school. The irony wheel keeps spinning: Duke and Connecticut will play basketball Nov. 27 for the first time since that night in Atlanta, squaring off in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden (Halftime Snack predicts the Huskies will win that game as well).

EMOTION POTION: The Connecticut football team endured a senseless tragedy earlier this season when junior cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed at a campus party. Howard, the 2008 Big East Special Teams Player of the Year, was a stabilizing force in the lives of many: his unborn baby, a large family in Miami, Fla., and his Huskie teammates in Storrs. The UCONN football players plowed during this emotional season, enduring a series of tough losses before finally breaking through last week with a 33-30 double overtime victory at Notre Dame. The team sent the game ball south to Howard’s family.

THAT’S A WRAP: Coach Doug Marrone completes his first season at Syracuse and hopes for a five-win season. Orange fans should have confidence that winning SU football is not far away, but the final ingredient will be talent. All the other intangibles of a strong football program have been put in place: discipline, hard work, responsibility and execution.

Connecticut 24, Syracuse 13 – The Orange has shown no ability to put together a consistent offensive attack on the road. The touchdown at Penn State came late in the game after good field position, and the long run by Delone Carter on the first series was the only offensive highlight of the Pitt game.

Game of the Week – Post-Thanksgiving games offer some of the best action of the season, highlighted this week by Pittsburgh at West Virginia, known as the Backyard Brawl. The Panthers need to defeat their border rivals to keep pace in their pursuit of the Big East title (Cincinnati completed its slate unblemished). Halftime Snack views the world, and college football, as cyclical; the Mountaineers will spoil Pittsburgh’s party this weekend and then the Panthers will squash the Bearcats' dream next week. All the more reason for the NCAA football championship to be determined on the field and not in the polls.

Heisman watch
– Texas quarterback Colt McCoy did his best Vince Young impersonation Thursday evening, running away from the Texas A&M defensive backs on his way to a four-touchdown effort. If he goes on to win the national championship (as Halftime Snack predicted in September), McCoy will supplant Young as the top QB in Longhorn history.

Whiteboard Video: Carl Cutler's first touchdown

Halftime Snack breaks down Syracuse's third touchdown against Rutgers.

Syracuse dominated No. 25 Rutgers, 31-13, Saturday afternoon in Big East Conference action before 36,759 vocal fans in the Carrier Dome.

The Orange dominated play in the first quarter, opening up a 14-0 lead with a dominant run game. The second quarter, however, started with Rutgers blocking a SU punt out of the back of the end zone for both the two points on the safety, and a big momentum swing.

The Syracuse defense stopped the Scarlet Knights on their next possession and the Orange marched up field. Quarterback Ryan Nassib found senior wide receiver Donte Davis for a 27-yard pass to the Rutgers 3-yard line. 

After an offsides penalty on the RU defense, the other SU quarterback, senior captain Greg Paulus, executed play-action with the Scarlet Knights trying to stop a sure run play. The deceit by Paulus worked to perfection, and he lobbed a pass to Carl Cutler in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. It was the first collegiate touchdown of Cutler’s career, and the ensuing Ryan Lichtenstein extra-point kick put the Orange up 21-2.

The Orange (4-7, 1-5 Big East) also benefited from two interceptions by junior safety Mike Holmes on the way to its first victory over the Scarlet Knights (7-3, 2-3) in five years. Read more about the SU/Rutgers game at on the Halftime Snack blog and TheNewsHouse.com game coverage.

Orange squeeze life out of No. 25 Rutgers

The Syracuse athletics department has caught the “winning fever” from the Orange men’s basketball team. The SU football team kept the mojo flowing Saturday afternoon, shocking No. 25 Rutgers, 31-13, before 36,759 fans at the Carrier Dome.

Halftime Snack thought many things Saturday afternoon in the Dome press box:

CRYPTIC MUSIC: The Carrier Dome speakers blasted some prophetic music throughout the warm-ups. Early on, “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” by Blue Oyster Cult, cast an ominous shadow over the injury-depleted SU roster. The next song was performed by The Guess Who, echoing through the Dome and possibly the minds of the Rutgers coaching staff—just who would take snaps for Syracuse? And finally, near the end of the warm-ups, “Use Somebody” by the Kings of Leon seemed to personify how SU coach Doug Marrone longed to have the talented players Rutgers coach Greg Schiano had at his disposal.

RUN, BABY, RUN: Syracuse's patchwork offensive line (five different units have started this season) dominated Rutgers all day, opening wide holes for Orange running backs to blast through. SU amassed 213 rushing yards on the day. All three backs, (senior Delone Carter and sophomores Antwon Bailey and sophomore Averin Collier) found the end zone, topped by Collier’s 60-yard game-clinching touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.

BLOCK PARTY: The Rutgers special teams unit blocked three kicks Saturday afternoon, two by Joe Lefeged. The speedy Lefeged knifed through the SU line early in the second quarter, blocking a Rob Long punt out of the end zone for the safety. He haunted the Orange again at the start of the fourth quarter, knocking away a chip-shot field goal attempt by SU’s Ryan Lichtenstein. Rutgers got a piece of another Long punt mid-way through the fourth quarter and the good field position resulted in a field goal.

HOUSE MONEY: Syracuse, preachers about the importance of field position all year, had its foot on Rutgers' throat defensively early on. So why would the Orange attempt an onside kick with a special teams unit that has fallen apart in the past few weeks? And the Orange, as has become the norm, screwed up the attempt, with Dan Vais jumping offsides. Rutgers took the short field and ran a trick play on the first snap, using some razzle-dazzle on double end around with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu tossing a 38-yard touchdown pass to fellow wideout Tim Brown. 

TURNOVER TREATS: The Scarlet Knights came into Saturday’s game as the national leader in turnover margin (2.33), with starting quarterback Tom Savage having thrown only two picks. The Orange's success hinged on the ability of its defense to create extra possessions, and junior safety Mike Averin CollierHolmes complied with two interceptions, a career best. Holmes leads the Orange with three interceptions in 2009 and is the first SU player since 2007 (Joe Fields vs. Miami of Ohio) to snag two picks in one game

THEY SAID IT: “It’s such a surreal feeling. Everyone kind of thought about it, not necessarily said anything about it, but it was always in the back of our minds.” – SU linebacker Mike Stenclik talking about walking into the Carrier Dome for the final time in his career.

“We didn’t coach very well and we didn’t play very well.” -- Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano following the game

“Just watching (SU running back Antwon Bailey) run and watching him play football; it lifted everyone else up.”
– Orange senior quarterback Greg Paulus, on what sparked SU’s fire at the start of the game.

(photo of Averin Collier by Mitchell Franz, TheNewshouse.com)