Lemon returns to forefront of offense

Last season, Alec Lemon wasn’t regarded as much of an offensive weapon, but he’s doing his part early in the 2011 campaign to reassert himself as the best in the Orange arsenal.

Syracuse University (2-1, 2-0 home) football fans are accustomed to seeing Alec Lemon catching the football. The junior racked up 61 receptions in his first two seasons and added 24 more in the first three games of 2011.

But throwing it was a sight that had SU fans on edge.  

Photo: McKenzie Carlile
Only three games into the regular season, Lemon is eight receptions away from matching his 2010 total.

Here was the receiver taking the throw from quarterback Ryan Nassib, striding back behind the line of scrimmage and lofting the ball more than 30 yards toward the now wide-open Van Chew, who somehow found his way under it before falling into the left side of the end zone.

Just like that, it was Lemon, not Nassib, who threw SU’s first touchdown in their 38-17 defeat at the hands of Southern California. To say the play was unexpected is an understatement, but Lemon, a former high school quarterback, tried to keep his emotions in check in the huddle.

“It was just like a normal play call, but I got a little excited,” Lemon said. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to make a good pass or I’m going to look bad on this play.’”

Lemon hasn’t looked bad too often this year, but he needs to maintain his current pace with Toledo (1-2, 0-1 road) visiting the Carrier Dome Saturday. His 24 receptions currently lead the Big East Conference and he ranks eighth in the country in catches per game. If he continues at his current pace, he’ll undoubtedly break the Syracuse single-season receptions record of 60 — set by Kevin Johnson in 1998 and equaled by Mike Williams in 2007. 

For Lemon, it’d be just another record broken. Before starting his career at SU, he set Maryland's high school single-season record for receptions with 103.  When he arrived on campus, he immediately became part of the offense, finishing the year with 29 catches, good for second on the team.

“I had to grow up a lot because there’s a big difference from high school to college,” Lemon said of his acclimation to the college game. “I had a lot of help from the older guys and my coaches.”

However, Lemon seemed to regress in his sophomore campaign last season. Though he finished with a higher amount of receptions, he fell to fourth on the team. The wideout also made mistakes that tended to stall the Orange offense.

“I had a couple slip-ups the past year, dropped a couple of balls,” Lemon said of his 2010 season.  “I just had to go back to my basics.”

After three weeks, Lemon looks to have fixed the mistakes that once plagued him. The Orange returned almost all of the major components from last year’s offense, giving Lemon another edge against the competition.

“All those times in the summer playing catch, running all these routes, it’s definitely helped,” Lemon said.  “Being with each other for almost two years, we (Ryan Nassib and I) see things that other people don’t see.”

So far, this connection has made Lemon one of the focal points of the Syracuse offense. Against Wake Forest he nabbed seven passes for 52 yards, and then tacked on 10 more for 94 yards and a touchdown against Rhode Island. Last week against Southern California, he had seven more receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown catch in addition to his touchdown pass to Chew.

With all of the recent success, it’s hard to not see Lemon as a major part of the offense. His quarterback already sees him as a resource in crucial situations.

“He is a very sure-handed receiver, runs great routes and creates enough separation for me to put the ball where only he can get it,” Nassib said of Lemon.  “He runs the routes at the proper depth, so even if he gets tackled, he’ll be able to still fall for the first down.”

The proper depth on routes could play a major factor against a secondary like Toledo's. Despite playing powerhouses like Ohio State and Boise State, the Rockets have only allowed one 100-yard receiver this season. The team from the Mid-American Conference currently ranks 30th in the NCAA in pass defense.

Lemon, however, believes the Orange offense won’t be dictated by the Rockets' defense.

“Just getting the ball quick and trying to make plays afterward, that's what our system is all about,” Lemon said of the Syracuse offensive scheme for Toledo. “We get the ball into our playmaker's hands and do something after the catch.”

This time, Syracuse fans hope a playmaker like Lemon is the one trying to catch the touchdowns, rather than throw them.


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