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Coach befuddled by Syracuse output

What happened to the high-powered Syracuse Orangemen?

Before the season, Syracuse was a popular dark-horse candidate to compete for the national title. The Orangemen had a favorable schedule with their toughest games at home, including the season finale against Miami, and loads of offensive firepower.

But coach Paul Pasqualoni is scratching his head these days.

The Orangemen ran up 73 points in the first two games, but then lost 35-12 as a home favorite against Ohio State. Last week, Syracuse struggled to a 15-9 win over Louisville.

"For two games in a row now, we didn't perform as well offensively as we expect to," Pasqualoni said. "We've struggled to gain any consistency. It's been a lot of little things like illegal motion or blown assignments.

"The thing that makes it hard to explain or understand is that it has been veteran players, fifth- and fourth-year players, making these mistakes, people who've been in this system for a long time and who you don't expect to make these mistakes."

One problem has been getting the ball to receiver-returner Qadry Ismail, the Orangemen's most explosive player. Ismail has seen the ball just six times from an offensive set in the past two games. He had just 67 all-purpose yards against Louisville, including receptions, runs and returns.

Meanwhile, quarterback Marvin Graves, who threw four touchdowns and no interceptions in the first two games, has no TD passes and six interceptions in the past two.

No sympathy: Don't tell Rutgers coach Doug Graber the Orangemen are struggling. The Knights' schedule has given him enough problems. Rutgers (3-2) hosted No.

7 Penn State last week and now must travel to No.

15 Syracuse.

"We certainly didn't get a break," Graber said. "It's tough when you have a big game like Penn State and then have to turn around and prepare for a team like Syracuse."

Part of Rutgers' preparation will include the never-ending saga at quarterback. Just as Ray Lucas wrestled the job away from Bryan Fortay last week, Fortay came back in relief with his best performance. Fortay was 12-of-20 for 205 yards and two TD passes against Penn State.

"That was probably the first time that Bryan looked relaxed under game situations," said Graber, who has not named this week's starter.

Big East vs. the rest: The Big East may be short on football tradition, but it has built a successful record this season. The eight teams have posted a 17-7-1 record against non-conference foes. Only Temple, at 1-3, has a losing non-conference record.

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