Setting the tone: Orange looking for a fast start in Ohio

SU opens the season with a trip to Ohio to face Akron Saturday.

No more two-a-days, line sprints or walkthroughs. After months of hard work and practice, Syracuse will open the season Saturday at Akron. Coming off a 4-8 season, the Orange are looking to make a statement early.

“This week we’re coming in with the mentality of a big win, not just a little three point score,” said defensive back Shamarko Thomas. “Our defense stop them every time they get on the field, and our offense score every time they get on the field.”

Syracuse played the Zips in 2009, winning easily 28-14. That effort was led by the defense, which held Akron to 50 yards in the second half and zero rushing yards for the game.

Senior linebacker Derrell Smith, who recorded a career-high nine tackles in that game, said the defense is looking to dominate even more this year.

“We’re a year older and a year more experienced. The fact that we have that year under our belt, we practice the way we want to play,” Smith said. “The secondary is looking good out there, they’re making the right checks and adjustments, doing the right thing, so I’m not really worried about that this year.”

Despite the teams playing just last year, Akron does present a unique problem for the Orange. The Zips have a new coaching staff, and with a new coaching staff comes a new system to game plan for.

 Without any game film to study, SU head coach Doug Marrone said the defense is just going to have to rely on instinct and play their own game.

“It helps you to concentrate on what you have to do and then you just play your percentages on the person,” he said during a Monday press conference. “I’ve been keeping folders on coordinators since 1996. We keep folders on coordinators so when they change teams we know exactly what they do. You bank on that and that is what you’re playing, percentage.”

Though the Orange are boasting a new play caller in QB coach Nathaniel Hackett and a new-look offense in 2010, Akron can probably get a good idea of SU’s game plan if they look back to last season.

Delone Carter rushed for a career-high 170 yards and scored three touchdowns on 30 carries. Whatever new schemes the Orange have in mind, there’s a good chance they involve a heavy dose of the senior running back.

Carter will also have a little extra incentive playing on the Zips home turf. As an Ohio native, his hometown of Copley is only about 15 minutes from Akron.

“He’s been pretty quiet about (going home), but once we’re able to step onto that field, I know DC is going to erupt,” said quarterback Ryan Nassib.

Though Nassib will be making his first start on Saturday, the junior signal caller did see playing time in 10 games last season – including the Akron game. In that game, he went 0-1 passing, but did rush four times for 14 yards.

On the other sideline, the Zips return quarterback Patrick Nicely who was thrust into action midway through the 2009 season. Nicely threw for 1,349 yards and six touchdowns, including a 191-yard, one TD performance against the Orange.

The rest of the Akron offense is filled with relative unknowns. Running back Alex Allen returns for his sixth year after being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. He should provide the Zips with some experience, but hasn’t seen much playing time since 2007 when he rushed for 414 yards and seven TD’s.

As far as wide receivers go, senior Jeremy LaFrance is the only one with any real experience. He led the team as a junior with 43 catches for 520 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’re just going out there expecting anything,” Smith said. “We can’t really watch film on them, so we’re just going to go out there and practice a variety of things.”

However, opponents and schemes aside, the Orange are just excited to finally be playing against someone other than themselves.

“Right now, we’re all so excited just to get against another team. We want to show that we can do it, we want to show everybody that the hard work is going to pay off,” Hackett said. “Everybody’s got the nerves, and everybody’s fired up. We’re ready to go, we want to get it rocking and rolling.”

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