COLUMBIA — Thirty-seven completions, 404 passing yards and four touchdowns later, Tennessee's Tyler Bray is no longer lining up across from the Missouri defense.
After hanging on for a 51-48 win, the Tigers left Knoxville – and its prolific quarterback – behind them.
3,019 passing yards
21 passing touchdowns
95 rushing yards
2 rushing touchdowns
Maybe the secondary thinks, with middling Big East opponent Syracuse coming to Columbia this weekend, that they are out of the woods. Maybe they think, with Bray’s theatrics little more than a memory, they can breathe easy.
Maybe they think their nightmare – the one where footballs fly in tight spirals, receivers run uncovered into the open field and drives often end in the end zone – is over.
If they do, they are sorely mistaken.
Enter Ryan Nassib. Syracuse’s fifth-year signal caller, a 6-foot-2-inch, 229-pound quarterback, has made his final year of eligibility his best. He has racked up career highs in completion percentage (63.4), yards per reception (7.9), and passing yards in 2012, culminating in a three-touchdown performance in Syracuse’s 45-26 victory over No. 9 Louisville last weekend.
In the past four games, Nassib has thrown 10 touchdowns without an interception. Missouri quarterback James Franklin, on the other hand, has tossed only five touchdowns while also throwing five picks in the same span.
Looking at the tape, Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel can draw parallels between Nassib and Bray. He also knows, though, that what’s scarier is that Nassib can do things on a football field that Bray can’t.
“This guy can run a little better than Bray," Steckel said Monday. "Bray, I thought, was an average runner but a phenomenal thrower. This guy here, he can create plays. He can extend plays with his feet. That’s all part of it.”
That running ability has resulted in two touchdown runs for Nassib this season, to go along with 21 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions. The big, physical runner isn’t going to juke any defenders off their feet, or run away from a smaller cornerback. He will more than happily plow over one, though.
Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone, who is in his fourth season with the team, sees a difference in Nassib’s game this time around. He isn’t the same player who led the Orange to a 5-2 start last season, only to watch them lose five straight to end a disappointing year.
He looks the same. He runs and throws the same. His numbers are better, but not by much.
According to Marrone, the change has been a mental one.
“My experience with him has really been watching someone grow. And I think a lot of coaches say that about a lot of players. But he’s really done a great job, and I think, more importantly, really this year,” Marrone said.
“He was coming off being a starter for two years, but I thought really in the offseason, right after the season was over, he worked on his leadership ability, and really continued to work extremely hard, being obviously a good football player.”
In his fifth year in the program, Nassib is now a leader.
If anyone has earned the title, it’s Nassib, Marrone said. And it’s not only his excellence on the field that has led to that determination.
“He’s an outstanding student. He’s one of many people around the country where, when people say ‘student-athlete,’ you want to think of Ryan,” Marrone said. “But I tell him all the time that I can’t appreciate enough how much work he’s put in to be a better leader for this football team, and it’s really helped us.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.