Fresh off of a 54-0 demolition of the Wagner Seahawks, quarterback Terrel Hunt and the Syracuse Orange continued their scoreboard assault with a 52-17 thumping of the Tulane Green Wave.
Hunt was masterful under center in his first career collegiate start. The sophomore completed 16-of-21 pass attempts for 181 yards and four touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception on the season. Hunt also rushed for 39 yards (second on the team) and a touchdown on a mere six carries.
While the offense rightfully received its share of accolades for racking up more than 50 points in back-to-back games, special teams left its mark and then some on the win with two blocked punts, a blocked field goal attempt and recovering a fumble on a botched punt. Handed outstanding field position on a silver platter, the offense cashed those three blocked kicks into 21 points, racing out to a 42-17 halftime lead. For all intents and purposes, the game was over before the second half kick-off.
The continuing story engulfing Syracuse the past two weeks has been the almost instantaneous metamorphosis undertaken by the offense since Hunt seized the job from Drew Allen. Wagner and Tulane have a fraction of the talent awaiting Syracuse in its inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference campaign, Still, the Orange has demonstrated an ability to score from almost anywhere on the field in a variety of ways with Hunt calling the signals.
Including Syracuse’s last possession in the loss to Northwestern, Hunt has led the offense on 18 drives. Fifteen of those series have resulted in scores, 14 touchdowns and a field goal. Syracuse has converted an astounding 78 percent of its possessions into scored with Hunt as quarterback.
He has also resuscitated the Orange’s passing attack. To compete in big-time college football, teams have to gain big chunks of yardage, score through the air and score quickly through the air. Hunt has done just. Using 20 yards as a barometer, Hunt has connected on touchdown passes of 30, 41 and 65 yards. A fourth TD pass fell (19 yards) just short of this mark. He’s also thrown passes that didn’t go for touchdowns of 20, 20, 23 and 42 yards. The ability to strike through the air for big yardage can’t be understated enough whether the situation calls for coming back from a large deficit or hurrying downfield for the tying or winning score at the end of a game.
Opposing teams now know the Syracuse offense can torch them in the passing game. That prevents defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage to stuff the run, Syracuse’s bread and butter entering the season with Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley anchoring a deep stable of tailbacks.
Since Hunt’s emergence, the Orange offense has touchdown runs of 15 and 16 yards along with a collection of runs of 15, 17, 22 and 25 yards, twice. Continued success through the air will result in gaping holes for Smith, Gulley, Devante McFarlane, George Morris II and Hunt himself to roam for large pieces of real estate.
The excitement and optimism stemming from Syracuse’s dominating performances against Wagner and Temple does have to be tempered slightly because of the level of competition. The Orange finished its out-of-conference slate at 2-2. The real tests will come in the form of ACC play. Syracuse will still have to prove to skeptics that its offensive line can open up the same holes, its receivers can get separation against faster corners, and that Hunt can still make smart decisions with the ball as better defensive lines put greater pressure on him.
Syracuse has a bye this week before welcoming the No. 3 ranked Clemson Tigers to the Carrier Dome. What better way to prove the doubters wrong.Steve Auger (Follow on Twitter @Corner_Cube)