Orange offensive line, entire team aiming to sure up reoccuring penalty problems against Pitt

Published on October 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ As the protector of Ryan Nassib’s blindside, Syracuse left tackle Justin Pugh has an array of responsibilities on every play. And on the road, there is the additional responsibility of dealing with crowds of more than 60,000 (at Washington) and more than 40,000 (at South Florida last Saturday). Amidst the screaming, chanting and whistling, Pugh tries to make everything perfect. Who am I blocking? Are they blitzing? I have to pick up this guy. What’s the snap cou— ‘That’s when the snap count kind of slips your mind,’ Pugh said, and you move just early enough to draw the false-start flag from the official. The snap count, and the little things, slipped the mind of Syracuse quite often Saturday. They have slipped the team’s mind quite frequently all season, and the flags have come from the officials just as frequently.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text Heading into the Orange’s marquee Big East matchup Saturday with preseason Big East favorite Pittsburgh (noon, Big East Network), those penalties will be essential areas for improvement from its season-long performance thus far. Five games in, SU has committed the fourth-most penalties per game in the nation (9.2) out of the 120 Division I-A teams. On those 9.2 penalties per game, the Orange has cost itself an average of 73.6 yards per game, which is eighth in the country. ‘When it comes down to it, if there weren’t little mistakes, there would be nothing to get better on,’ junior right tackle Michael Hay said. ‘These are just things that we have to get better on. Nobody plays a perfect game. There’s no such thing as a perfect game.’ Even near-perfect, though, has been hard to come by for the Orange so far this season. SU has not had a game with fewer than five penalties, and it has accumulated double-digit penalties three times this year. It became a trend in Syracuse’s first home game against Maine. Despite running away to victory later, first-half penalties played a part in a closer than expected 17-14 score at halftime. In all, the Orange committed 14 penalties, most in the Big East in a single game this year. And after the game, SU head coach Doug Marrone pointed to penalties as his main concern to take away. ‘I’ve been in games where we’ve gotten our hands outside our body and we’ve made some poor decisions,’ Marrone said after the Maine victory. ‘Every coach has had it, but I don’t expect that out of our football team. We haven’t had that problem here.’ After a five-penalty showing against Colgate, it appeared the Orange had taken Marrone’s words to heart. But then the team went back on the road, and the flags — the little mistakes — followed. Some penalties killed Syracuse drives, like when Andrew Tiller was called for holding on a 13-yard Nassib rush that would have given SU a first down. Some extended USF drives, like Malcolm Cater’s roughing-the-punter penalty in the first quarter. ‘We’re aware that we have to improve on it,’ senior running back Delone Carter said. ‘Just be conscious of it, and we work on it throughout the week.’ One particular sequence was troubling for Pugh and Hay on the offensive line, which committed six of the penalties against USF. After the Bulls had just scored on a kickoff return to take a three-point lead, an illegal block on SU’s kick return brought the ball back to its own 24-yard line. On 2nd-and-10, USF defensive end Craig Marshall got into the backfield and sacked Nassib. Then, a delay of game. Then, a false start from Pugh. Suddenly, a drive that could have started on the 34-yard line was backed up to SU’s own 3-yard line. ‘Every time you get a drive going and there’s a penalty,’ Pugh said, ‘obviously it messes it up. It messes up the rhythm. It isn’t honestly what we want to do. We’re trying to get better at that each week.’ Hay and Pugh find comfort in the fact that penalties are correctable mistakes. And that has made Marrone stress it more, once again, in practice this week. For SU linebacker Derrell Smith, it goes back to the ‘perfect game’ theory applied by Hay. Every team has flaws. Now SU has to work to correct its biggest flaw. ‘There’s no such thing as perfect,’ Smith said. ‘Right now, we’re just working on eliminating mistakes. Last week, we may have had a couple of mistakes here and there. Basically, we just want to work on that. ‘We’ve beat teams in the past with mistakes. If we can just play with fewer mistakes — and hopefully mistake-free — that’s what we’re really working on right now. Not trying to be perfect. Nobody’s perfect.’ The Orange was almost perfect on one drive last week — the 98-yard drive in the fourth quarter that captured victory. And ironically, that was the one sustained offensive drive in which Syracuse did not commit a penalty. No delays of game. No false starts. No little mistakes that had cost the offense in previous drives. To Pugh, it’s not a coincidence. He knows no team will be perfect. But against the preseason Big East favorite Pittsburgh, he wants more plays in which all responsibilities are accounted for. More of that near-perfection. ‘The only ones stopping us are ourselves out there,’ Pugh said. ‘Once we get (penalties) down, the sky’s the limit for the offense.’ [email protected]

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