Heading into Saturday’s contest against Tulane, Syracuse first-year head coach Scott Shafer and his staff challenged the team to win in all three phases of the game.
The offense did their part. Sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt accounted for four passing touchdowns and one rushing, as the offense used a balanced attack accumulating 405 yards (205 rushing, 200 passing).
The defense did their part. Cameron Lynch posted nine tackles and one sack and held the Green Wave scoreless in the second half.
And, the special teams did their part. Syracuse blocked three kicks (two punts and a field goal) and recovered a fumble on a misplayed punt, which led to 21 points for the Orange in the first half.
The result: a 52-17 victory over Tulane in front of an announced crowd of 36, 128 at the Carrier Done. Syracuse, now 2-2 on the season, has a bye, before hosting Clemson on Oct. 5.
“This was a good team victory,” Shafer said. “We scored twenty-one points off three blocked kicks. We were eight-for-8 in the red zone. The defense pitched a shutout in the second half. I’m extremely proud of the kids.”
The football pundits often say that offense sells tickets, defense wins games and special teams can provide momentum and game shifting plays. And that, they did.
By forcing four turnovers in the first half alone, the special teams set the table for Hunt and the offense, giving them prime field position.
After Hunt connected on a 15-yard pass to Jerome Smith and a 19-yard pass to Chris Clark to take a 14-3 lead with 5:21 remaining in the first quarter, Tulane got the ball back and was forced to punt at their own 17-yard line. Darius Kelly shed his blocker and made his way to punter Peter Picerelli to block the kick. The loose ball was recovered by Durrell Eskridge at the Tulane 6-yard line. Two plays later, Hunt connected with Clay Cleveland on a 5-yard strike and the Orange extended the lead to 21-3.
Syracuse capitalized on another Tulane special teams miscue at the start of the second quarter. After the offense stalled, Orange punter Riley Dixon booted the ball 51 yards to the Tulane 15-yard line. Green Wave punt returner Kendrick Banks fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Devante McFarlane at the Tulane 15-yard line. Three plays later, the Orange cashed in as Hunt scampered 16 yards for a touchdown and a 28-10 lead.
“Our special teams made our job easier all day,” Hunt said. “We were right near the end zone every time we got the ball.”
The special teams made it easier again for the offense two minutes later. Tulane’s offense stalled on the ensuing possession and was forced to punt at its own 27-yard line. Defensive tackle Eric Crume found himself unblocked off the line of scrimmage, so he decided to take a chance. He raced in and blocked Picerelli’s punt, giving the Orange the ball at the Tulane 17-yard line.
“My eyes lit up and I stuck my hand up,” Crume shared. “I saw an opportunity. It brought me back to my basketball playing days when I would try to block a shot. It was very fun for me. I did not know where the ball went, I just looked up and I saw it bounce out of bounds. It was a crazy experience.”
For Crume, it was his second career-blocked kick.
“We felt like we could exploit the tackle-wing gap,” Shafer said referring to the two blocked punts. “And the kids came off the edge good and hard.”
It was the first time the Orange had blocked two punts in a game since Sept. 11, 2004 in a game against Buffalo.
It didn’t take long for Hunt and the Orange to find the end zone again. Prince-Tyson Gulley had gains of three and nine yards, before his one-yard rush up the middle to pay dirt gave the Orange a 35-10 lead with 10:43 left in the first half.
Tulane’s attempt to cut the lead to 35-13 on its next possession was stalled thanks to John Raymon who blocked 2012 Groza Award winner Cairo Santos’ 32-yard field goal attempt with 5:33 remaining in the first half. The block snapped Santos’ streak of 26 consecutive field goals made.
“We were confident,” Crume said. “Even on field goals and extra points we saw they didn’t have a high pad level. Our plan right away was to lay right or lay left and we knew we would have opportunities to make plays on special teams. We saw a weak point and we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.”