Despite Nassib's record-breaking day, Syracuse falls to Northwestern

Orange overcomes early mistakes but ultimately drops home opener, 42-41.

The Syracuse Orange completed a 22-point comeback behind a record-breaking performance from Ryan Nassib, but a late Northwestern touchdown propelled the Wildcats to a 42-41 victory.

Midway through the third quarter, the Orange found itself down 35-13. Plagued throughout the first three quarters by mental mistakes and penalties, Syracuse seemed destined for a disappointing loss. The game was far from over, though.

“We always knew we weren’t out of the game,” senior wide receiver Marcus Sales said.

Photo: Taylor Baucom
Quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for 470 yards and four touchdowns, including a school-record 44 completions.

The Orange fought back, scoring 28 unanswered points off four touchdown passes from Nassib, the last of which was scored with less than three minutes remaining.

The Syracuse offense, typically a hard-nosed style, opened up and became reliant on Nassib’s arm. The change worked. The senior set single-game Syracuse records for completions, attempts and yards. The 470 passing yards tied for eighth on the Big East single-game record list.

“Ryan can handle a lot. I don’t worry about Ryan Nassib being able to handle anything,” Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said.

Marrone insisted that the high passing totals were a result of the new offensive philosophy.

“We’re trying to get the offense kicked up, we're trying to make sure we get the players in the right position and we're trying to spread the field out to make plays,” Marrone said.

The 596 total yards for the Syracuse offense marked the first time since 2003 that it cracked the 500-yard mark.

Despite the record-breaking offensive showcase, it was the special teams, flags and mental mistakes that proved too much to overcome. The Orange had 12 penalties for 72 yards. Marrone said that his team jumped offsides too much, citing anxiety as a potential reason for the excessive flags.

In the third quarter, a ball thrown slightly backwards to Jerome Smith was thought to be a dead play, but it was picked up and returned 33 yards for a Northwestern touchdown. Marrone called it a “free” touchdown and said it was his fault for not preparing his players better for that type of situation.

Other missed opportunities included settling for field goals early and giving up good field position by way of costly turnovers.

Even with the loss, the takeaway from the game was the improvement and remarkable leadership demonstrated by Nassib, whose performance elicited national praise.

Nassib credited the rest of his offense for his impressive game.

“When you have good receivers and a good offensive line, it makes my job easy,” he said.

One of these receivers was Marcus Sales, who made an impressive return to the gridiron after being suspended for the 2011 season. The senior finished with 11 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. But even after a strong return, Sales says there is room for improvement.

“I can’t settle for 11 catches," Sales said. "Maybe I need to make 13 next time for us to get the victory or maybe I need to make an extra block to get the victory.”

Sophomore wide receiver Jeremiah Kobena tallied his first two career touchdowns, proving to be the deep threat that the Orange need him to be. Kobena said he has become much more comfortable in Syracuse's open offense, and that seems to be paying dividends.

“I think I got used to the speed of the game," Kobena said. "Just let the game come to me. It’s always good when you know what you’re doing out there.”

Despite the loss, Marrone was pleased with the effort and never-say-die attitude that his team portrayed, saying it’s a hallmark of all of the squads he has coached. This comeback, he said, was just an example of the fight and toughness instilled in his team.

“They fight for themselves, they fight for their community, they fight for the university, they fight for their alumni,” Marrone said.

The Orange now gear up for the week ahead and prepare to face Southern California at MetLife Stadium.

“We’re going to concentrate on the things we did well, we’re going to work extremely hard, and we’re going to get better,” Marrone said.

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