The only other theory is that somehow the bumbling postseason Major League Baseball umpires were tossing the yellow flags. With the game Saturday tied 7-7 less than a minute into the second quarter, the Bearcats set up for a field goal attempt and botched the snap, at which point quarterback Zach Collaros, who was pulling double duty as placeholder, grabbed the ball, scrambled and heaved it into the end zone and found Kazeem Ali for what was called a touchdown. Problem was, there was a Bearcat lineman blatantly standing next to Ali in the end zone. Cincy should have been flagged for an “ineligible man downfield” penalty, which would have negated the points and forced the Bearcats to re-kick from even further back. But the refs saw things differently.
Put me in coach, I’m ready to play: Backup quarterback Ryan Nassib has won over the Syracuse fans by outperforming starter Greg Paulus, but the coach thinks otherwise. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
SU head coach Doug Marrone immediately ran onto the field to argue, speaking in body language that was the most demonstratively pissed-off he’s been on the sideline all season. The refs then conferred and decided they made the right call. Marrone then called a timeout for the sole sake of giving the refs an earful regarding their ineptitude—all while the 33,802 in attendance loudly voiced their displeasure as well—to no avail.
The Orange were down 14-7 on the Bearcats’ next possession. The ball was at the Cincinnati 46 with the Bearcats facing third down. The Orange manned up and stopped Bearcats running back Jacob Ramsey short of a first down, and the Bearcats should have been forced to punt. But instead, the refs flagged the Orange for a helmet-to-helmet hit which replays showed was not the case—they used to play the game with leather helmets, for Christ’s sake—and Cincinnati got 15 yards and an automatic first down and ended up scoring a touchdown to make it 21-7. The Orangemen never recovered.
“I think the Big East has the best officials and I think they did a nice job,” said Marrone after the game, in a stark about-face. “They communicate well, they’re great on the sidelines and I tip my hat to them because that’s a hard job.” Perhaps the change of heart came about because he did not want to pay the mandatory fine the NCAA levies to any coach who criticizes game officiating. But despite those—and a few other questionable calls—the Orangemen still had chances to rally, but failed to overcome.
Greg Paulus turned in another lackluster performance, completing 12 of 17 passes for 85 yards with one touchdown and one interception. And the fact that the Orangemen held these offensive juggernauts to 28 total points makes this loss all the more bitter, because they did play well enough to win but they didn’t convert when it mattered the most.
“At the end of the day, we’re not a good enough football team to execute at a very high level and win a game against the No. 5 team in the country,” commented Marrone. “We still have a lot of work to do as far as our procedures and not giving up turnovers. And when we start correcting those things, that’s when you’ll start seeing a better product on the field and that’s when we’ll start to see the wins coming.”
After the game, captain and senior defensive lineman Arthur Jones stated that he believed his squad performed well, but said he can only worry about his side of the ball. Jones was also on the receiving end, as he always seems to be in post-game press conferences, of the “twit” media question of the day, when a local radio personality asked him this: “You were 3-3 on the home stand, and the way you lost this game, would you have wanted more than three wins on the home stand?” Jones could barely utter the phrase “definitely” before cracking up and causing a laughing chain reaction among other reporters.
As the Orangemen have done all season, they began rotating Paulus and backup quarterback Ryan Nassib in different offensive packages. And because of his less-than-stellar play the past few games, it got to the point that the Dome crowd would loudly boo Paulus every time he subbed in, and cheered wildly every time it was Nassib’s turn. But the negativity was apparently not demoralizing to the former Blue Devil point guard, who claims to not have heard any of it.
“When you’re on the field you focus on what you’ve got to do,” said Paulus. “We have some great fans, but when we’re playing, we’re thinking about reading progressions and getting first downs and playing to the task at hand.”
Marrone also claims to have been oblivious to the crowd’s vocal favoritism. “Didn’t even hear it,” he said. “Even when I was a player I had no idea what was going on outside of the game on the field.”
In the last case of selective hearing, crowd favorite Nassib, a sophomore, seemed flattered by the appreciation, but insisted the focus should be on the team. “It made me feel good,” he said about the applause. “I’d like to think they were cheering for the whole offense, but it was good to have the fans behind us.”
In limited play, Nassib completed 7 out of 10 passes for 97 yards, and no interceptions. He’s got a quicker release, stronger arm and is more accurate than Paulus. Based on popular opinion—if the crowd is part of the team as Marrone insists—and logistics, there’s no reason Nassib should not be the starter henceforth. If the Orange have any bowl aspirations this year, it’s the move they need to make.