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Syracuse's dynamic duo leads late-season surge

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib is rewriting the school record book in his final season, mainly because he has the luxury of throwing to a talented group of receivers and has the blockers up front to give him the time.

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Nassib has shattered his single-season record of 2,685 yards passing set last year - he's at 3,404, 14th nationally - and he's spread the ball around: Alec Lemon (65 catches), Marcus Sales (60), Jarrod West (39), Beckett Wales (31), Prince-Tyson Gulley (25) and Chris Clark (10) top the list.

``When all those guys are playing well, it opens up a lot of opportunities for us,'' coach Doug Marrone said. ``I see a chemistry with Ryan and the receivers.''

Especially so with Lemon, who has 989 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Entering his senior year, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Lemon had 129 career receptions, which ranked fifth all-time at Syracuse, and his 11 touchdown receptions was tied for ninth-best. He's now the leader in the former and just four behind Rob Moore in the latter.

Lemon's 12 catches in Saturday's comeback win at Missouri were two shy of Art Monk's school record for a game and his 244 receiving yards were just five off Scott Schwedes' mark.

``People don't understand how they can complete what they can complete,'' offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. ``That's something that's been growing for three years. They've connected so many times. They have a great feel for each other. It's awesome to watch. I really haven't seen anything like this since I was a kid watching Joe Montana throw to Jerry Rice.''

After sitting out the season opener against Northwestern because of an injured hamstring, Lemon started slowly but has come on like gangbusters. In the last five games, he has 41 catches for 727 yards. The Orange (6-5) won four of those games to qualify for the postseason for the second time in three years.

``It's come from a long time of just working together, a lot of practice, a lot of hard work, a lot of time and effort,'' said Nassib, who is 267 of 420 passing and has been sacked just 14 times. ``We've been fortunate enough to play together for four years and built such a great relationship.''

Lemon, on target to eclipse the school record of 68 receptions for a season that he set last year, is ranked 13th nationally at 98.9 receiving yards per game. He needs 143 yards to surpass Marvin Harrison's school record for a season and just 75 to move past Moore, his position coach, into second place.

``He's a really smart football player. You can throw a lot at him,'' Moore said. ``He remembers a lot of things, little nuances of certain routes and plays and techniques. He's got a toughness that's very, very underestimated, he's very tough to bring down after he catches the ball, and he catches the ball well in traffic. Some guys can stretch the field, but they don't like going in the briar patch where it's awful thorny.''

Lemon was in that briar patch on Saturday and it never fazed him as Syracuse rallied in the final minute for an important 31-27 win over the Tigers. Lemon accounted for all 81 yards on the deciding drive. He made four receptions, the big one a 19-yarder over the middle on fourth-and-10 from the Missouri 36.

``It was tough. (The defender) was holding me,'' Lemon said. ``But once I saw the ball in the air I said, `I've got to catch this no matter what.'''

On the next snap, with 20 seconds left in the game, Lemon made the clinching catch with no defender in sight.

``He was faced with some adversity this year,'' Moore said. ``He was injured early, had a stretch where he had a couple of games where he didn't perform to the level we expected him to. He's held himself accountable, came back, put the work in, and now he's starting to reap the rewards.''

Clearly, Lemon has put a midseason loss at Rutgers - three catches for 50 yards - far in the rearview mirror.

``I had my worst game ever,'' Lemon said. ``I just said to myself that I didn't ever want to play like that again. I put in my head that I had five more weeks left of college football, and I just wanted to take that next step, go out there and perform the way I know I can, show everyone that Rutgers game was a fluke.

``It really wasn't me.''

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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