Heading into last Saturday’s home opener vs. the Wagner Seahawks, Syracuse coaches had told back-up quarterback Terrel Hunt he would receive some playing time. Drew Allen was still the team’s starter, despite an 0-2 start that saw Allen connect on a single touchdown pass compared to six interceptions.
The offense sputtered under Allen, having scored a combined 37 points in the first two games of the year. During a 48-27 blowout loss at Northwestern the prior week, Hunt marched the team on a 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. The drive was culminated by Hunt’s 15-yard scramble to the end zone. Though Hunt was competing against the Wildcats’ second and third team defenders, his ability to move the ball and command the offense earned him additional snaps as the Wagner game loomed.
Allen played the first three series for the Orange. The results were similar to most of the team’s offensive possessions in the first two games. In a word, dismal. Against Wagner, an FCS team that lost to Division II Merrimack a week earlier, the offense managed three points, two punts and negative one yard passing. Syracuse coach Scott Shafer had seen enough.
This was Hunt’s chance. He didn’t simply answer when opportunity knocked. Hunt kicked the door off its hinges.
The fleet-footed sophomore led Syracuse to five straight scoring drives the remainder of the half. All touchdowns. The game, and seemingly, Allen’s hold on the starter’s job, was over at halftime.
Shafer knew his maiden voyage as head coach would be led by a new signal caller after the graduation of record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib, now carrying a clipboard on the sideline for the New York Giants. Hunt was considered to be in the lead coming out of spring practice after a three-way competition with last year’s back-up, senior Charlie Loeb, and junior John Kinder. When Allen announced his plans to transfer from Oklahoma for his senior year, a two-horse race emerged over the summer. Shafer selected Allen to start the opener against Penn State much to the chagrin of Hunt.
When Hunt entered the game halfway through the first quarter against the Seahawks, what was striking was not just that the offense moved the ball with him under center, but how it moved it. Quick air strikes. Intermediate passes to open receivers. A punishing ground game from a stable of running backs. For the first time this season, the offense was humming.
Hunt was laser-like in picking apart Wagner’s secondary. He completed 15-of-18 attempts for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Including the drive he led against Northwestern, Hunt has been under center for seven series this year. The results have been staggering. Six touchdowns and a field goal. Wide receiver Jarrod West emerged as Hunt’s favorite target on the day. West’s monster game resulted in 147 yards on just five receptions highlighted by a 65-yard bomb right down the middle of the field that West hauled in on his way to the end zone.
Syracuse rediscovered its big play ability as well once Hunt entered the game. Along with the long touchdown pass, Hunt found West for completions of 18 and 42 yards, a 41-yard touchdown pass to Chris Clark and a 30-yard touchdown to running back Prince-Tyson Gulley. Even more impressive was Hunt completed all six pass attempts on third down for 110 yards and a score.
With Hunt lighting up the Carrier Dome sky like a fourth of July fireworks display, the running game returned to life. Jerome Smith led a balanced attack with 61 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns. George Morris II had 56 yards on nine touches while Gulley gained 33 yards on seven attempts. Adonis Ameen-Moore (26 yards), Devante McFarlane (23 yards and a touchdown) and Hunt (22 yards on only three rushes) also did damage on the ground.
SU’s offense emerged from its slumber once Hunt took the reins. Wagner is an FCS team so the results have to be taken with a grain of salt. Shafer announced Hunt will start Saturday at home against Tulane. Syracuse should receive more of a fight from the Green Wave, 2-1 on the season. The offense will focus on continuing to capably move the ball with Hunt under center. Should Syracuse be expected to compete with the lumber of the ACC in Clemson and Florida State? That remains to be seen.
But certainly the Orange must now like its chances against the remaining conference slate. Time will tell if Hunt is Syracuse’s long term answer at quarterback. In the short term, he has ignited a previously stagnant offense.Steve Auger (Follow on Twitter @Corner_Cube)