For the second straight season, Syracuse opened their football schedule at the Carrier Dome and needed a late comeback, but this time, the comeback was not enough as Northwestern scored a late touchdown of their own to eke out a 42-41 victory. The Orange (0-1) rallied from a 22-point deficit to go up by six points with under three minutes remaining, but the Wildcats (1-0) put together a scoring drive of their own to take the lead with under a minute left on the clock.
The SU comeback was led by quarterback Ryan Nassib’s record-setting day, as the senior set school records for passing attempts, completions, passing yards, and all-purpose yards in a game, but the team was undone by a pair of return touchdowns, one on a punt and another on a fumble. Making the offensive outburst more impressive was that Syracuse was without three starters on that side of the ball – wide receiver Alec Lemon, left tackle Justin Pugh, and tight end David Stevens.
The Orange were not without fault in the game, though. They gave up two long punt returns, committed three turnovers, and were flagged for a dozen penalties, including a crucial late hit call on Northwestern’s final drive that gave the Wildcats a first down inside the SU ten-yard-line. The visitors scored the deciding touchdown on the first play following the infraction.
After Northwestern botched a punt snap on their first possession, the Orange took over at the Wildcat 31. Syracuse drove to the five, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Ross Krautman and a 3-0 lead just over four minutes into the game. The SU defense forced a second punt and their offensive counterparts turned it into a second field goal by Krautman with just under four minutes left in the first quarter, this one from 33 yards away. After each team punted, the Wildcats got on the board, returning the Orange punt for a touchdown and a 7-6 lead just before the end of the quarter. Syracuse responded with a touchdown of their own, capping a 14-play, 82-yard drive when Prince-Tyson Gulley darted into the end zone on a 14-yard touchdown run.
Krautman extra point gave SU a 13-7 lead with just under 11 minutes on the clock. The next Orange drive was stopped by an interception and one play later, Northwestern turned that turnover into a touchdown and a 14-13 lead. Another long punt return set up a short field for the Wildcats and another touchdown, extending their lead to 21-13 with under four minutes left in two opportunities before the half. Neither team could do much in the time left before half and Syracuse trailed by eight at the break.
The Wildcats opened the third quarter with another touchdown drive, stretching their lead to 28-13. The Orange put together a sustained drive, but when it bogged down, Krautman missed a 44-yard field goal try. Northwestern made it 28 unanswered points on the next drive with another touchdown. Trailing 35-13 midway through the third quarter, the Syracuse offense roared to life. On their next possession, Ryan Nassib hit Marcus Sales on a seven-yard scoring toss and Krautman’s conversion made it 35-20. After the SU defense forced a punt, Nassib connected with Jeremiah Kobena on a bomb for a 50-yard touchdown. Krautman’s extra point closed the third quarter and sliced the Wildcat lead to 35-27. Once again, the Orange defense forced a punt and, once again, Nassib finished the ensuing SU drive with a touchdown pass, finding Kobena again. The seven-yard score finished an 86-yard march and got Syracuse within 35-33, but Nassib’s pass on the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete.
The SU defense forced another quick punt and the offensive momentum continued. On this possession, Nassib guided the offense for 72 yards and a touchdown, this time connecting with Christopher Clark on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Nassib’s fourth touchdown pass in less than 15 minutes of game time gave the Orange a 39-35 lead. Prince-Tyson Gulley ran the ball in on the two-point conversion and Syracuse held a 41-35 lead with 2:40 left in the contest. That proved to be too much time, however, as the Wildcats were able to move the ball deep into SU territory. A sack forced Northwestern into a 3rd-and-15 situation, but the Orange committed a questionable late hit call, giving the Wildcats a first and goal at the SU nine-yard line. One play later, Northwestern scored and the extra point gave them a 42-41 lead with 44 seconds remaining. The SU offense could not hit its stride in the waning seconds and was only able to move to their own 33 before the clock ran out.
Ryan Nassib’s record setting day featured him completing 44 of his 65 passing attempts for 470 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. Nassib also tacked on 30 rushing yards to reach 500 all-purpose yards in the game. Marcus Sales, who was last seen catching three touchdown passes in the Pinstripe Bowl to cap the 2010 season, led the Orange with 11 receptions for 117 yards. Prince-Tyson Gulley led the Orange on the ground with 50 rushing yards on seven carries and added seven receptions for 46 yards.
The Syracuse defense provided some big plays, including four sacks as part of a dozen tackles for loss. Dan Vaughan was credited with 1.5 sacks while Deon Goggins, Marquis Spruill, and Shamarko Thomas each had one. Cameron Lynch received credit for a half sack. Thomas also caused a fumble, which was recovered by Markus Pierce-Brewster.