For the first time since 1990, the Syracuse Orangemen will play our Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. After last weekend’s close game against Minnesota, where they lost in overtime, I’m curious as to how this team will perform against Penn State.
A team that I viewed as sort of “ho-hum” after last year’s blow-out win has turned into a team that might be quite exciting to watch. I do hope it’s not too exciting!
I’m also curious about their new Duke point guard-turned-Syracuse quarterback. Greg Paulus, as a high school quarterback for Christian Brothers Academy in Dewitt, New York, a suburb of Syracuse, led his team to a 13-0 state title, and a #13 national ranking by USA Today. He was also named the 2004 Gatorade national player of the year in football. Last week was his first college snap. After a brief time in pre-season he beat out two Syracuse contenders for the position who had more experience at the college level. In his first game he completed 19 of 31 passes for 167 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
My guess – and it’s only a guess - is that Paulus’s past experience gave him an intangible edge– he has learned what it is like to win, both in high school and at Duke. Sometimes a team needs a leader that knows how to win, who has experienced what that feels like. In addition, at Duke, he was coached by one of the best coaches in sports, Mike Krzyzewski. You can’t be a 3-year starter for Duke without being a competitor and you can’t be a successful point guard without being a leader.
That’s what Doug Marrone, the new head coach, needs if he wants to turn Syracuse around. Leadership, and perhaps someone who is completely open to a new way of doing things.
Speaking of Doug Marrone, he has coached exactly one game in college football – last week against Minnesota. But he was offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, and a starting offensive lineman for Syracuse from 1983-1985. He knows football. Despite a young team, Syracuse almost won last week against a Big Ten team.
A couple of people have told me, “But Penn State’s defense is much better than Minnesota’s.” They’re not worried, they think Penn State has more weapons than Minnesota. I agree. We have proven leadership on our team and we have experienced success, intangibles that make it hard to fail, especially in front of a home crowd.
But I worry about the hunger of Syracuse. A team that is hungry – and angry about a close loss the week before - is a tough team to play, regardless of their talent. My guess is that they will leave it all on the field on Saturday. They have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
It is said that the most improvement in a team occurs between the first and second games of the season. Penn State has the most talent and experience, both in coaching and on the team, but which team will improve the most?
I guess that’s why we play the game!