SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Doug Marrone is halfway through his fourth season at Syracuse, and he's still searching for that elusive elixir — the one that will lead to more wins.
And what has to happen is not a big secret — stop giving away the football.
The numbers game goes like this: Rutgers (6-0, 3-0 Big East), which held off the Orange 23-15 on Saturday, is ranked 19th this week in the AP Top 25, and the Scarlet Knights lead the conference and are tied for the national lead with a plus-2.17 turnover margin (17 turnovers gained and only four lost). Syracuse (2-4, 1-1) has lost seven fumbles and suffered eight interceptions while gaining just five turnovers and is tied with South Florida for last in the conference in turnover margin with a minus-1.67 mark.
"I'm not going to lie. My frustration level is extremely high because it's really what's hurting this team," Marrone said Monday. "It doesn't give you a chance. We talk about it. Since I've been here, we have 24 losses where we're minus-30 in the turnover margin, and in our 19 wins we're plus-12.
"I don't think it's rocket science."
The Orange (2-4, 1-1) began the season with a one-point loss at home to Northwestern, suffering one interception and two lost fumbles. It also committed four turnovers in dropping a tough 17-10 decision at Minnesota in the fourth game.
Both of Syracuse's victories have come at home — against Stony Brook, which plays at Division I's second level, and Pittsburgh. In its 14-13 win over the Panthers, the Orange committed just one turnover, the defense excelled when the game was on the line, and special teams play was solid.
Against Rutgers, the defense again was stellar, limiting Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison to 64 yards rushing to snap his six-game streak of 100-yard games. But though the offense put up solid numbers — Syracuse outgained Rutgers 418-237 — there were four more turnovers and a blocked kick that turned the tide.
Adonis Ameen-Moore's 3-yard TD rush and Ross Krautman's kick gave Syracuse a 7-7 tie with 1:32 left before halftime, and a possible upset seemed a possibility when the Orange opened the third quarter by driving to the Scarlet Knights' 15.
That's when Krautman's 32-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jamal Merrell and Duron Harmon picked it up and raced 75 yards for a critical touchdown.
"There are a lot of plays in every game that are critical to the outcome, but if you wanted to point to a big momentum swing in the game it was the blocked field goal. That was fairly obvious," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "That's a 10-point swing where not only did we block it, we were fortunate to run it in for a touchdown. There certainly was a lot of football left to play at that point. That play didn't win the game."
Krautman said he didn't know what happened, but Orange left tackle Justin Pugh took the blame. Pugh, who missed the first four games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, said he missed his block.
"When you're not winning, it's not just on one player," Marrone said. "It's not necessarily just on one play. Every week we're sitting down with players to make sure we're correcting mistakes that have been made so they don't occur again."
Marrone again credited his players for not giving up in the face of so much adversity.
"We've been doing a good job. Our kids have been playing hard," he said. "For me, it's always been the makeup of this program. No matter what adversity they're facing, whether it's our record or turnovers, they're doing a good job. Rutgers, give them credit. They made the plays when they had to make them, and we turned the ball over. It's disappointing, frustrating for everyone, but we've got to brush it off and go.
"We can play good, competitive football."
Better start soon.