It took an explosive nine minutes in the third quarter and a huge drive with under 90 seconds on the clock, but Syracuse rallied back from as many as 20 points down to knock off South Florida in Tampa, Florida on Saturday night, 37-36. The Orange (4-4, 3-1 Big East) claimed sole possession of third place in the Big East after driving 75 yards in 80 seconds to score the winning touchdown and finish off a dramatic comeback against the Bulls (2-6, 0-4), who dropped their sixth consecutive decision.
Ryan Nassib led the dramatic drive, tossing his fourth touchdown pass of the night with three seconds on the clock to take the lead on a night when the SU defense was gouged over and over by the USF, particularly on the ground.
After South Florida converted the opening possession into a touchdown, Syracuse responded with a score of their own when Ross Krautman capped a 12-play, 72-yard drive with a 20-yard field goal to slice the margin to 7-3. That was it for the Orange on the board in the opening half, but not for the Bulls, who scored on four of their other five possessions before halftime.
A touchdown and three field goals, the last coming with four seconds left in the second quarter, staked the hosts to a 23-3 halftime lead. USF also led the battle of yards at the break, having amassed 350 to SU’s 198.
The Orange opened the second half on fire, though. Eight plays into the half, Ryan Nassib floated a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jarrod West. Krautman’s conversion made it a 23-10 game less than three minutes into the third quarter. After allowing South Florida a pair of first downs, Syracuse forced a punt, which Durell Eskridge blocked. The Orange took over at the Bulls 45 and cashed in five plays later when Alec Lemon carried the ball in from four yards out on an end around. Krautman tacked on the extra point and SU was within 23-17 just over six minutes into the second half.
The Orange defense kept the momentum when Shamarko Thomas pounced on a botched handoff on the first play of South Florida’s ensuing drive at the USF 23. Seven plays later, Nassib zipped a five-yard touchdown pass into the arms of Marcus Sales to tie the game. Krautman promptly broke that tie with the conversion, putting the Orange on top, 24-23. The Bulls came to life, tallying a field goal to take make the lead at 26-24 before the third quarter ended. After forcing an SU punt, South Florida extended their lead, adding a touchdown to make it a 33-24 game with under 11 minutes remaining.
Syracuse responded by marching 75 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown, getting into the end zone when Nassib connected with Sales again, this time from 19 yards out. Krautman tacked on the extra point to slice the deficit to 33-31 with just over seven minutes left in regulation. South Florida assembled an efficient drive, eating up clock and yards before settling for a field goal and a 36-31 lead with 1:23 remaining.
Starting at their own 25 after a touchback, the Orange used two passes to reach the Bulls’ 36. After a pair of incompletions, SU converted a third down with a 20-yard pass play to get to the 16. After a short pass moved Syracuse to the ten, they committed a pair of five-yard penalties, backing them up to the 20. Nassib rifled a pass to Sales, who was stopped inside the one. The Orange hustled to the line and snapped the ball with six seconds on the clock with Nassib seemingly crashing into the end zone for a score as a penalty flag flew in the air to signal a South Florida player offside, unable to get to the line of scrimmage. The blown whistles, however, were to grant the Bulls a time out prior to the snap.
The ball was reset and six seconds went back on the clock. On the ensuing play, Nassib zipped a pass to Lemon, who caught the ball going to the ground for a touchdown and a 37-36 Syracuse lead with only three seconds remaining. The Orange tried a two-point conversion to extend the lead to three, but failed. SU kicked off and the special teams unit snuffed out the USF return after a couple laterals, ending the game.
Ryan Nassib played most likely his best half in orange and blue after the intermission, finishing the game with 27 completions in 40 attempts for 328 yards and four scores, all after the break. Jerome Smith broke the century mark for the second straight contest, this time rumbling for 127 yards on 28 carries. Marcus Sales was Nassib’s primary target, snaring nine passes for 125 yards and a pair of scores. Jarrod West caught seven passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. Shamarko Thomas and Deon Goggins paced the Orange defense with nine tackles apiece and Dyshawn Davis had a pair of tackles for loss.
The Orange chase their third straight win on Saturday, this time facing Cincinnati on the road. The Bearcats (5-2, 1-1) have dropped their last two contests, including an overtime decision at #16 Louisville on Friday night. The action starts at noon and the contest is available on television on the Big East Network and at ESPN3.com.Jim Stechschulte