Syracuse works on building consistency

The chance to be a driving force in the Big East race was right there for Syracuse.

The Orange had big-time momentum after an upset win over West Virginia. They had confidence. They finally were healthy. With just one conference loss, they were bunched among several teams with an opportunity to climb ahead.

But rather than building on that win, Syracuse took a step back in a 27-10 loss at Louisville.

Ryan Nassib went from one of his best games of the season to one of his worst. The team had trouble picking up varied blitzes. The run game slowed down. Defensively, the Orange were unable to generate much of a pass rush up front. Penalties were an absolute killer, with an uncharacteristic 12 thrown on the day.

Instead of being in the top part of the conference race, the Orange will need major help to win a championship. So as Syracuse (5-3, 1-2) prepares to play at UConn (3-5, 1-2) on Saturday, one of the big questions has been this: How does this team work on being more consistent?

"It’s very difficult to answer these types of questions because it starts to sound like you’re making excuses," coach Doug Marrone said at his weekly news conference. "But there is no doubt that we want to be a consistent football team. And we’re working. It’s a work in progress, and it’s never going to get there as fast as I want it to, or the players, or the coaches, or the media, or the fans want it to. But as long as we keep working and we keep our heads down and keep going, we’ll fight through that."

What is important to remember is that Marrone is in Year 3 of a major rebuilding project, after taking on one of the worst teams in the nation. What he has done in such a short period of time is remarkable.

Consider that Syracuse is one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the second straight year. The last time the Orange reached bowl games in consecutive years was 1998 (Orange Bowl against Florida) and 1999 (Music City Bowl against Kentucky).

But getting to bowl games ratchets up expectations. The natural next step is for Syracuse to begin competing for conference championships. Playing consistently is a huge factor.

Players understand this. Nassib in particular. There is no denying all the strides he has made this season -- Nassib is completing a career-high 65 percent of his passes and on pace to shatter multiple school passing records.

But he went from throwing for 229 yards and four touchdown passes against West Virginia to throwing for a season-low 162 yards and a score against Louisville, missing plenty of open receivers.

That inconsistency has lived with him this season. Nassib has three games where he has thrown three touchdowns or more; he also has had a three-interception game in a loss to Rutgers this season.

"There are a lot of areas to improve on," Nassib said in a phone interview earlier this week. "I am not quite where I want to be yet, and like the rest of the team, something I want to improve on is consistency game in and game out. To go from one game playing well to the next game laying an egg -- that's something I need to start improving on."

Nassib said he needs to do a better job of making quicker reads, trusting his first option, trusting himself and playing fast. That is a direct reflection of what happened last week, when he was sacked four times and taken out of his game because of all the pressure. Nassib said the Cardinals sent looks that were difficult to pick up, and everybody has to do a better job of responding.

"After a tough loss, you can’t wait to get back out there," Nassib said. "That’s what everybody on the offense is feeling right now."