Pregame: Heading into today’s tilt with the Toledo Rockets, SU looks to bounce back from last week’s 38-17 faceplant versus USC. There were some encouraging signs in that game, but also familiar problems, as QB Matt Barkley picked apart the secondary like a leftover rotisserie chicken.
The whole sieve-like secondary thing isn’t super encouraging when we’re heading into a game featuring a multi-headed Lovecraftian monster at quarterback. Will the Terrance Owens/Austin Danton duo be an eldritch horror flaying the minds of the secondary via dynamic receiver Eric Page, or will it be one of those weird two-headed turtles you see every so often in the UK Sun? On a related note, some sort of “pass rush” would be nice.
The Orange have built up an aura of quasi-respectability this year, and the whole ACC defection thing has a lot of eyes on them. Dropping a home game against a (very good, it’s true) MAC team would not, I’m guessing, enhance that aura.
And so I feel I can say, with no hyperbole whatsoever, that this is the most important game in the entire history of Syracuse football.
Five minutes to kickoff: And here we go. The crowd here is looking a little thin. Noon start time = students all hung over? Maybe they’ll drag themselves here by halftime.
One minute to kickoff: Special teams are getting hyped up, led by Dorian Graham, who’s jumping around and yelling at his teammates. At least someone’s awake right now.
Syracuse 0, Toledo 0
15:00 Marquis Spruill starts the game watching from the sidelines, not sure what’s going on there. The Orange defense is also missing Chandler Jones (still) and Shamarko Thomas, who narrowly edges Prince-Tyson Gulley and Mackey MacPherson for most awesome name on the team.
9:44 With Dantin taking snaps, Toledo has a distressingly easy time moving down the field. They do it mostly on the ground, with an array of QB options and screen passes. Going for it on fourth and one, he manages to sneak through the middle for a first down on the second effort.
4:26 The Orange manage to hold Toledo to a field goal after a drive that featured pretty much every problem we were worried about: SU couldn’t stop Dantin on the ground, and in the latter half of the drive, the secondary gave up a couple big pass plays, including a first down on second and 19. There was the requisite smorgasbord of missed tackles. Philip Thomas had a near-pick in the endzone to break up a TD pass, and Toledo settles for the three points. We’re just making this interesting to be nice, right? Right?
4:20 The Dome kind of looks not totally embarrassingly empty! Student section is still pretty sparse.
2:34 Oh, come on, really? Nassib takes a step forward in the shotgun as he’s calling an audible, and the snap sails, oh, fifteen yards behind him. Toledo recovers easily on the SU 30.
1:10 Morgan Williams takes the direct snap on third and two and casually jogs 21 yards into the endzone. Toledo is well on their way to keeping their BCS win streak alive.
1:10 Kiss Cam again. It happens at the same break every game, but the fact that this time it’s following such a disastrous turn of events is weirdly jarring.
0:00 A bright spot! Graham takes the kick return to the 45 on a couple of nice moves. To be honest, the offense was looking pretty good before MacPherson decided to snap it thirty yards into the backfield. Bailey had a nice 9-yard carry on SU’s lone 4-play drive, and he seems to be getting some room to operate—he just had a couple nice hesitation moves, leading to a first down and now a second and six.
Syracuse 0, Toledo 10
14:00 After Bailey loses a shoe, Prince-Tyson Gulley busts out a 21 yard run, Nassib scrambles around for about five seconds before lobbing it to the left sideline to a wide open Nick Provo, who takes his own leisurely stroll into the endzone. Provo was about the fifth option on that play—good for Nassib for finding him, and good for the offensive line for giving him the time to do it. And the Orange are within three.
Syracuse 7, Toledo 10
14:00 At this point the question becomes: which defense, if any, is going to buckle down first? Both offenses have been moving the ball without too much trouble. Talent would tend to lean in SU’s favor, but Toledo is exploiting the same holes that have been there all season, and it’s hard to imagine the Orange magically plug those holes in the space of a game. And, of course, they’re missing several defensive playmakers. But Toledo’s D is banged up too. Shootout, anyone?
13:46 Oh man, that one’s brutal. Eric Page takes it about 95 yards for a TD on the return, but it gets called back on a penalty and the Rockets start on their own six. Suckers!
12:02 And Toledo blinks first. With Terrance Owens in the game at QB, the Orange defense finally asserts itself and the Rockets stall on their own 25. Gulley’s back at the 35 to receive.
11:57 Ritchy Desir calls for a fair catch on the 36. He had some space to maybe run, which probably confused the Toledo player closing in on him, who makes a chest-high flying tackle while Desir is standing motionless. The Rockets is displaying an admirable commitment to shooting themselves in the foot.
8:53 Syracuse comes out of the drive with a field goal. The offense continues to look good. Let’s see how Toledo responds after that enervating kick-return penalty.
Syracuse 10, Toledo 10
5:31 Big stand for the Orange defense. After letting Toledo march it down the field and giving up yet more third down conversions––the Rockets are something like 7 of 11 at this point on third downs—the defense comes up big on fourth and four. Phillip Thomas and Deon Goggins stop Owens as he tries to rush for the first down.
2:24 Marrone busting out the trick plays again! Van Chew takes the snap and looks for Alec Lemon in the end zone, in one of those cool crowd-collectively-holds-their-breath type of situations, where you can just feel the entire stadium tense up, ready to explode. But Lemon’s double covered, and can’t haul it in.
1:29 Antwon Bailey is doin’ work. Great to see him breaking out a little after a tough couple of weeks.
1:06 Diauntae Morrow for Toledo makes a nice diving pass deflection in the endzone to save a touchdown, and the Orange settle for another field goal.
Syracuse 13, Toledo 10
0:50 Ri’shard Anderson comes limping off the field. Doesn’t look too serious—hopefully he’s okay.
0:43 Dantin’s taking snaps again, and he runs for the first easily on third and six. Guess someone watched tape of the Rhode Island game.
0:00 Um, wow. Jeremiah Detmer, the Rockets kickoff man, just uncorked a 52-yard field goal, the first of his career and the second longest in Rockets history. We head into halftime tied up at 13-all.
Well, a 13-13 tie is pretty good after the disastrous way the first quarter began. It’s a little surprising the score’s so low—all but two drives have resulted in scores, but four of those have been field goals, so there you go.
There were a lot of good signs in the first half on offense. Gulley and Bailey tag-teamed the rushing and both ran well, and Nassib’s been solid if unspectacular. On the other hand, Toledo’s also scored on three out of four drives, and the defense is as inconsistent as ever. They’re having trouble stopping Dantin in particular, much like the URI game, and the secondary is still the secondary. Eric Page is having a field day receiving, although we pretty much knew there was no stopping that.
I like SU’s chances in the second half, but it’s probably going to stay close.
Syracuse 13, Toledo 13
12:53 Receiving out of the break, SU gets things started with their worst drive since the opening, and find themselves punting for the first time all game. Way to set the tone out of half!
12:45 In a play that encapsulates pretty much every problem with the defense, Page catches it over the middle in a gaping hole in the zone, then dodges two or three tackles for an easy first down.
12:04 By the way, I hope everyone appreciates that this diary hasn’t degenerated into a steady stream of rocket-related puns.
10:46 On a third down, Cameron Lynch comes swooping in from behind to sack Dantin and force Toledo to punt. Um: Mission Control DOES NOT CLEAR YOU TO LAUNCH! Yes, probably best I stay away from these. You’re welcome.
8:56 Scary, scary moment. Desmond Marrow of Toledo is down and not moving at all after a short run by Bailey. I didn’t see what happened realtime but it looks like he hasn’t moved at all since the play. The Toledo players on the field are all kneeling a few yards away. Stretcher is coming out. Doesn’t look good at all. Can’t tell if he’s conscious or not. Dome is noticeably quieter. Trainers are clustered around him. There’s something really creepy about the way his limbs are completely limp—the trainers are moving them for him, pulling his legs together and tucking his arms to his sides. It’s like a circuit tripped, and suddenly his body stopped working.
We just saw a replay: he got hit in the back of the head, helmet to helmet. When I was way younger, I read a story about a football player who got paralyzed from the neck down. The one detail I really remember, for some reason, was the player saying that you always keep your head up when you hit someone, but he went into a tackle with his head down, and broke his neck, and that was that. Paralyzed.
Anyway, the point is: Marrow had his head down.
8:56 Toledo’s whole team is out on the field now.
8:56 And, wow, that’s a huge, huge relief: Marrow gives the thumbs up as he’s wheeled away on the stretcher. The Dome gives him a standing ovation. That was terrifying. A long, long five minutes. I can’t imagine what the players were feeling during that.
7:11 Toledo’s looking galvanized right now: they get Nassib in the backfield for a loss of 11, and we have our third punt in a row this quarter. Maybe everyone’s still a little groggy from their halftime naps? The punt, by the way, is awful. High but only 32 yards.
4:51 Did they forget to go over defense at halftime? Because Toledo RB David Fluellen just accounted for basically an entire drive, culminating in a play that somehow tricked the entire Orange D into not covering him as a receiver. Maybe he made himself invisible? Anyway: another stroll into the endzone, and the Rockets are back on top, and I’m going to have to think of some more synonyms for “porous.”
Syracuse 13, Toledo 20
3:31 Just when I was thinking I might have to reevaluate my “the offense is looking good” line, Nassib hits Jarrod West over the middle for a gain of 39 and West’s first career catch. On the next play, Bailey squeezes through a seam and scampers into the endzone. This is the first TD today that didn’t look like the result of the defense forgetting to cover someone.
Syracuse 20, Toledo 20
2:21 Great, great defensive stand for the Orange. Thomas was everywhere as Toledo goes three and out. On the punt return, Gulley ducks a tackler and makes something out of nothing, bringing it seven yards back.
1:55 Weird play just now: Nassib was rolling to his right and Van Chew was streaking deep down the same sideline, about 3 yards behind any defender. The crowd thought for sure it was going to be a touchdown but Nassib held onto it and picked up five on the ground. The two defenders chasing Chew were basically in a line between him and Nassib—I wonder if Nassib straight up couldn’t see him because there were people in the way, or if he couldn’t tell how open he was, or was afraid of underthrowing it since he was scrambling. Regardless: big missed opportunity there. That should have been a highlight-reel TD. And two plays later, it results in another SU punt.
0:00 Man, the one Toledo scoring drive this quarter aside, the Orange defense has definitely started to assert itself. Spruill comes up with a huge diving block to deflect a pretty sure first-down pass, and Toledo punts again to close out the quarter. The crowd, by the way, has filled up considerably since the beginning, and they’re pretty into it—some “Let’s Go Orange” chants, and they’ve been great making noise for the defense this quarter especially. Student sections are still pretty bare though. For shame!
Syracuse 20, Toledo 20
14:27 Nassib fends off some pressure and tosses a screen to Nick Provo, who throws a stiffarm and rides it about 20 yards, finally going down at the Toledo 13.
12:37 SU settles for another field goal after Nassib tries to lob it to Lemon heading toward the left sideline—it looked like Lemon got bumped and fell over, but no call. On the replay, he might have just tripped. Still, the Orange get three points and are up, 23-20.
Syracuse 23, Toledo 20
12:19 Well, the defense is nothing if not inconsistent. Dantin hits Eric Page over the middle and he takes it down to the 19 for a 42 yard gain. Oy vey.
10:54 ….And Toledo’s back on top. Morgan Williams takes another direct snap and bulls his way into the endzone. At this point, the inconsistency of the defense in combination with Nassib having a decent but not great passing game is threatening to lose the Orange the game.
Syracuse 23, Toledo 27
10:54 Watching this defense is so, so frustrating: they’ll string together a couple of completely dominant drives, but then they’ll come out on the next series and offer all the resistance of a drowsy kitten. I guess that’s what you get with a young team made younger by injuries. They’ve gotten key stops earlier in the season, but at this point it’s not something you can rely on. A lot of pressure’s on the offense now.
10:08 Speaking of offense, Bailey’s having a nice bounce back game. Part of Nassib’s lower numbers this game are undoubtedly because the Orange have been working the run more this week.
8:54 That being said, Bailey comes up inches short of a first down on third and one, and Syracuse is forced to punt again. By the way, there’s been no sign of Owens since the second quarter. Dantin’s taken all the snaps for Toledo since then. Unfortunately, he’s done enough damage for both of them.
8:47 Big test for the Orange D here. They have to keep this a one-possession game.
8:12 Also, they just announced the crowd at 39,116. If I was drinking coffee right now I would have spewed it on my keyboard. That there’s some fuzzy math.
6:51 On a huge third down, Orange DE Torrey Ball juuust manages to get a hand on Dantin’s ankle, tripping him up short of a sure first down. Toledo nearly botches the snap but they get the punt away. The Orange take over on their own 29, desperately needing to score. Once again, though, the young defense came up with a timely stop. I just wish my heart could take it.
6:03 West with his second career catch and his second first down, on third and nine. Huge, huge play.
4:50 Gulley just uncorked 17-yard run. He’s been a huge boost this game.
3:09 Going for it on fourth and two, Nassib drills David Stevens for six yards and the first down. That was a game-saving conversion right there.
2:07 Nassib lofts a wobbly pass off his back foot as he gets knocked down by two blitzing Toledo players—but it hits Lemon in stride for a touchdown. Two minutes left, and it’s all on the defense now. Keep in mind, Toledo’s Detmer hit a 52-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, and holy cow it’s loud in here right now.
Syracuse 30, Toledo 27
2:07 Controversy! The extra point gets reviewed but upheld. [As most of you reading probably know by now, Toledo did indeed get jobbed on this one. It was impossible to tell from where I was, and we didn’t get a chance to see replays, but the ball clearly passed in front of the left upright, and the Big East issued a statement saying the refs missed both the initial call and the review. Pretty baffling that they didn’t overrule it. It’s an awful break for Toledo and a lucky one for Syracuse. Obviously it’s great to be 3-1, but you never want to win on something like this.]
2:01 Crowd on their feet and loud. Toledo starting from their own 32.
1:46 After losing his shoe as he got hit after a first down, Eric Page is forced to line up with his shoe only half on—the play goes away from him, naturally, and the Orange stuff the Rockets for a gain of just one. That’s one way to stop him, I guess. Too bad they can’t do that every time.
1:16 Dantin has about 10 seconds to throw it and finally hits Danny Noble over the middle for a first—after the catch, he shrugs off one tackler and takes it about ten extra yards—and then Cameron Lynch gets tagged with a facemask penalty. Outside of a touchdown, that sequence was almost literally the worst thing that possibly could have happened. The roller coaster continues! First and goal from the nine. So at least it’s a long first and goal, I guess.
0:24 Dan Vaughan with a big tackle to stuff Dantin on a QB draw play. It’s third and ten.
0:04 Dantin rolls to his right, almost all the way to the sideline, and hits Bernard Reedy on the three yard line. Toledo burns a timeout, and have to hit a chip shot to tie it.
0:00 Ryan Casano’s kick is good from twenty yards out, and we’re headed to OT, tied at 30.
0:00 Well, this team is nothing if not exciting.
0:00 They’re playing that Alan Parson’s Project song that MJ’s Bulls used to introduce the starting lineups to. Seems gutsy.
Syracuse 30, Toledo 30
Toledo comes out on offense, and on the first play Dantley chucks it into double coverage—and Kevyn Scott skies the crowd for an interception! Syracuse just has to hit a field goal to win.
As you might expect, the Orange keep it on the ground, running through Bailey and grinding down to the eight yard line on six plays. Toledo burns a timeout to try to ice Krautman, but he drills his fourth field goal of the game from 27 yards out.
The Orange are 3-1, and we can all breathe a little easier and hope the Orange learn from this. Man, just once I’d like an easy win—I’m not asking for a blowout, just a, you know, 10-point win where we keep the other team at arm’s length for the whole game.
Is that too much to ask? With this team, apparently, the answer is yes.
Final: Syracuse 33, Toledo 30