Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments Published on October 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm Quarterback: A-Through the first half of the season, Ryan Nassib has been outstanding for the Syracuse offense. One bad game against Rutgers doesn’t discredit what he’s done for the team in 2011. By throwing 11 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions, Nassib demonstrated a crucial ability to protect the ball. He’s upped his completion percentage to a very respectable 64.6 percent, and he’s spread the ball around so that six receivers have at least 10 catches. His poise in the pocket and accuracy throwing the ball are two big reasons why SU is 4-2.Running back: BThe success of Syracuse’s running game in the first half of the season has flown under the radar a bit. Antwon Bailey has taken the reins of the starting role from Delone Carter and is on pace to rush for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns halfway through the season. He’s been on a hot streak too, rushing for more than 110 yards in his last three games — although his 124-yard performance against Rutgers was soured by two fumbles. Prince-Tyson Gulley was set to break out as the chance-of-pace back, but broke his collarbone in an off-field incident and is out for the season. The next three running backs — Jerome Smith, Adonis Ameen-Moore and Steve Rene — have all only seen limited action so far.Wide receivers: C-AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIn the middle of the summer, wide receiver was a strength for Syracuse. But it’s a glaring weakness now. Whether it is the wide receivers’ inability to get open or play calling that features other players on the Orange offense, starters Van Chew and Alec Lemon haven’t been utilized as much as expected. After catching eight passes for 134 yards and a touchdown against Rhode Island, Chew has just eight catches for 105 yards in the following four games. Dorian Graham is a name to watch for the second half of the season, though. The speedy senior finally got his hands on the ball against Tulane, hauling in two scores.Tight end: BStarter Nick Provo couldn’t get open through the first two games, but he’s come alive in the last month to give Nassib a reliable target downfield. An eight-catch, 85-yard outburst at Southern California began a stretch of three games with at least 50 yards for Provo. The senior has demonstrated an ability to be dangerous after the catch as well, with both of his touchdowns coming on plays where he’s broken a tackle. David Stevens, a backup, has chipped in with 10 catches for 61 yards on the season as well.Offensive Line: BThis unit has been up and down since the first game of the season. Ryan Nassib has been sacked 12 times, and costly penalties have been drive killers for the offense. That said, when offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has set his mind on running the football, Antwon Bailey hasn’t had any trouble doing so behind this line. The back has four 100-yard games already this season, including three-straight before the bye week. If the line can give Nassib a little bit more time in pass protection, the offense could really open up in the second half of the season.Defensive line: B-Syracuse’s defensive ends have played below expectations and its defensive tackles have exceeded them. The loss of Chandler Jones for the past five games hurt the SU pass rush, but Mikhail Marinovich, who seemed poised for a big year, has just two sacks on the other side. Jones returns this week, although his replacement, Torrey Ball, filled in adequately. On the interior, Deon Goggins has been a revelation. The play of Goggins and Jay Bromley on the middle of SU’s line is a big reason why Syracuse’s rush defense is ranked No. 23 in the nation.Linebackers: A-With the loss of Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith, there was a very good chance this unit would have some growing pains this year. But the linebackers have stepped up and have been the best group on the Orange defense in 2011. Sophomore Marquis Spruill has had no trouble making the move to the middle. And the two new starters, senior Dan Vaughan and freshman Dyshawn Davis, have been brilliant. Vaughan ranks second on the team with 41 tackles, and Davis has wreaked havoc on the blitz all season. He leads the Orange with four sacks.Secondary: DThere are eight teams in the country that give up more passing yards per game than Syracuse does. Yes, there have been multiple injuries in the secondary, and yes, a lack of pass rush does make it harder on the defensive backs. But only so much of the blame can fall outside of the secondary. Four of the six teams SU has played have reached the 300-yard passing mark. Rutgers just missed with 297. Receivers have been running free against the Orange all year, and opposing quarterbacks have had no trouble finding them.Special teams: C+If only it were possible to give separate grades here for the Orange. Freshman kick returner Jeremiah Kobena was stellar in the first half of the season. His speed and elusiveness are game-changers for Syracuse. See: Tulane. Kicker Ross Krautman is a different story. Dominant last year, mediocre this year. He’s already missed three times as many kicks in 2011 as he did all last season. He’s also had a kick and an extra point blocked. The punters, Shane Raupers and Jonathan Fisher, haven’t been great. But they haven’t cost Syracuse anything, either.Coaching: B-There are two ways to look at the job the SU coaching staff has done this season. First, it should be commended for the way it has prepared Syracuse to stay tough in close games. Take away the Rutgers game that SU blundered away and third-year head coach Doug Marrone and staff have a 5-1 team on their hands. But the other side says an Orange defense that was so good last year is being shredded on a weekly basis through the air, ranking 112th of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in pass defense. And the offense that entered the season expecting big plays has been rather conservative.Offensive MVP: Ryan NassibIt’s hard to argue against choosing Nassib as the MVP thus far. He carried the offense early in the season before tailback Antwon Bailey got going, almost single-handedly winning games against Wake Forest and Rhode Island. Since then, he’s been an efficient orchestrator of the offense and a proven leader. His quarterback rating has exceeded 120 in all but one of SU’s games. And he’s shown that he can be clutch, leading the Orange on a game-winning drive against Tulane. Without Nassib, the Syracuse offense would be poor at best.Defensive MVP: Kevyn ScottScott’s been the closer for the Syracuse defense. In the season opener, after a poor performance throughout the game for SU’s defense, Scott picked off a pass in the fourth quarter and then blanketed Wake Forest receiver Chris Givens on a fourth-down play in overtime, sealing the victory. He closed out Toledo, too, intercepting an Austin Dantin pass in the end zone in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal for Syracuse. He’s the bright spot in an otherwise deplorable Orange pass defense.Best single play: Antwon Bailey’s 53-yard touchdown run vs. Wake ForestBailey’s run erased an awful first three quarters to the season for Syracuse. Less than two minutes after SU scored to cut Wake Forest’s lead to eight points in the middle of the fourth quarter, Bailey took a carry, got to the outside and scampered down the left sideline for the Orange’s longest offensive touchdown of the season to date. Syracuse tied the Demon Deacons one play later on a two-point conversion and won the game in overtime.Best game: Wake ForestThis game certainly made the droves of Carrier Dome fans that left in the third quarter regret that decision. Syracuse came out flat against the Demon Deacons both offensively and defensively, falling behind 20-7 at the half and 26-14 with a quarter to go. But then something clicked. Syracuse scored 15 points in a span of 1:19 to tie the game at 29. And Ryan Nassib found Van Chew for a 4-yard touchdown in overtime that turned out to be the game-winning score in a 36-29 victory.Worst Game: RutgersThis category wasn’t even a contest. The Orange blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, committed five turnovers in the game and had an extra point and a field goal blocked. Antwon Bailey fumbled twice, including on the final play of the game in double overtime. Ryan Nassib completed less than half of his passes. There was a lot of ugliness, and it resulted in SU’s second loss of the year.Biggest Surprise: Dan VaughanThe senior had a total of 10 tackles in his first three years at Syracuse but has already piled up 41 as the starting strongside linebacker this year. That ranks second on the team behind only Phillip Thomas. Considering that freshman Cameron Lynch has started to split playing time with Vaughan, those numbers are that much more impressive. The linebackers have been the best part of the Orange defense this year, and Vaughan has shined mostly under the radar.Biggest disappointment: Van ChewSyracuse’s deep threat has disappeared. Chew’s speed and big-play ability were supposed to stretch opposing defenses and give Nassib a downfield weapon. That lasted two games. Chew proved he was clutch by hauling in a crucial touchdown and two-point conversion against Wake Forest, then followed that up with an eight-catch, 134-yard game against Rhode Island. Since then, though, he’s had eight catches in four games with only one touchdown. Against Rutgers and Tulane he didn’t even eclipse 15 receiving yards in each game.Biggest Gain: Deon GogginsInterior defensive linemen don’t normally make a lot of tackles, but Goggins ranks fourth on the team with 30 takedowns this year. That means not only is he taking on blockers and stuffing the middle of the field, he’s also getting off those blocks to bring down ball carriers. The senior transferred to SU from Cerritos Community College last year but didn’t play in any games. This season, he’s played a major role on a defense that has allowed less than three yards per carry.Biggest loss: Prince-Tyson GulleyThe loss of Gulley really hurts Syracuse. He is out for the season with a broken collarbone, and that injury came after the best game in the young sophomore’s career. Against Toledo, Gulley broke out for 66 yards rushing on 10 carries. He was a dynamic change of pace for the Orange, spelling starting tailback Antwon Bailey. Gulley was likely the Orange’s quickest back, and his burst of speed through the line of scrimmage will certainly be missed.Best New Face: Dyshawn DavisThe freshman has been a terror on the blitz all season long and has been SU’s biggest playmaker on defense through the first half of the season. He might have had the play of the year for his hit and forced fumble on Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison if Syracuse had won that game. Davis ranks first on the team with four sacks and seven tackles for loss, and opposing offenses have to recognize where he is on the field before every snap.What happened to: Jarrod WestAll throughout camp, West looked great and received praise from everyone on the offense. The 6-foot-2, 204-pound receiver figured to bring size and strength to a receiving corps without its best player in the suspended Marcus Sales. But three games into the season, West still hadn’t caught a pass. He did have two huge catches for Syracuse against Toledo, both on third down, but since then he’s faded away again. Against Rutgers and Tulane, West managed three total receptions for only 10 yards.