Syracuse football its own worst enemy with early season struggles

Through its first four games of the season, Syracuse’s toughest opponent has been, well, Syracuse.

The Orange sits at 2-2 with a third of the season officially in the books. For a team that began the year seeking to capitalize on a fairly successful rookie campaign in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Syracuse has instead resembled a squad that can’t seem to get out of its own way.

Offensively and defensively, careless penalties have either halted scoring drives or given opposing offenses new life. Combined with back-breaking turnovers, special teams mishaps and a failure to turn takeaways into points, the Orange finds itself staring at an uphill climb towards bowl eligibility. Here’s a game-by-game look at numerous struggles Syracuse must correct before its season slips away.

TakedownMD

Syracuse was its own worst enemy against Maryland

Villanova: 27-26 2OT win

Not to take anything away from the Wildcats, but the most perplexing aspect of the season (and home) opener is how on earth did Syracuse wind up in double overtime with an FCS opponent? The most obvious answer was the result of the Orange – quarterback Terrel Hunt specifically – flexing too much muscle. Hunt was tossed from the game in the second quarter for punching a Villanova player. At the time of the ejection, Syracuse – clinging to a 10-7 lead – had just reached the Villanova 34-yard line. The Orange opened the second half with a 13-play, 83-yard touchdown drive engineered by back-up quarterback Austin Wilson. Had Hunt kept his composure and had Syracuse finished off the drive he was ejected on with a score, this might not have been a game halfway through the third quarter.

Hunt’s ejection wasn’t the only cause for concern. The Orange converted just 5-of-14 on third down while Villanova was 12-of-20. Syracuse also managed only 136 yards on the ground. Prince-Tyson Gulley had 100 of those yards, 65 of which came on a burst to the end-zone. Villanova quarterback John Robertson was a one-man wrecking crew against SU. He torched the Orange defense for 199 yards through the air and 115 rushing. Syracuse also committed seven penalties for 55 yards and lost the time of possession battle, 37:48 to 22:12. Most alarming, though, has to be that the only reason SU had a chance to win the game in overtime is because Villanova missed a gimme 25-yard field goal with only fifteen seconds remaining in regulation.

» Related: Better execution, continued talent upgrade needed for Syracuse football

Central Michigan: 40-3 win

After trailing by a field goal at the end of the first quarter, Syracuse steam rolled Central Michigan the rest of the way. The defense even got in on the act with a 36-yard Marqez Hodge fumble return for a touchdown and a safety to outscore the Chippewas, 9-3. Still, the Orange notched another nine penalties.

Maryland: 34-20 loss

A visit from the Terrapins was as close to a must-win as the third game of any season can be given the strength of the Orange’s remaining schedule. This was one of those games where the box score was hardly an indication of the results on the field. Syracuse converted more first downs, 26-17, outgained the Terps by 220 yards, 589-369, and out-rushed Maryland by 281 yards, 370-89. Astonishingly, Syracuse trailed at the half by a score of 31-13 and only had itself to blame. The Orange defense surrendered a 90-yard touchdown catch by Brandon Ross while Terrel Hunt was victimized by William Likely for an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown. That wasn’t Hunt’s only miscue of the game. He also lost a fumble at the Syracuse 23-yard line in the fourth quarter. Maryland converted that into a field goal. Kicker Ryan Norton missed a 25-yard field goal as the second quarter expired. Syracuse had a first and goal from the Maryland eight yard line but committed three penalties for 25 yards to force the field goal attempt. The Orange also committed two second-half personal foul penalties that helped stall drives.

Notre Dame: 31-15 loss

In a game where Syracuse surrendered 31 points, it’s hard to say the Orange defense did its job. But yes, the Orange’s defense did do its job in the name of five Irish turnovers. One of those was a 29-yard interception return by Durell Eskridge (the two-point conversion pass failed). The offense did turn a Notre Dame fumble into a 7-yard touchdown run by Hunt early in the fourth quarter. Of the four turnovers in which Hunt and the offense took the field immediately following, three times they came up empty including twice in the first quarter. The Irish were the more talented team but not by such a large margin that an Orange victory would’ve been shocking. If Syracuse converted those first quarter turnovers into scores, the entire complexion of that game would’ve drastically changed.

At this point in the season, Syracuse has to be lamenting lost chances to be 3-1 at the worst. But the Orange doesn’t have to look very far for someone to blame. And with home games against Louisville and Florida State looming in the next two weeks, there’s precious little time to correct numerous flaws. Bowl eligibility depends on it.

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About Steve Auger

Steve Auger is a freelance writer whose work has covered a variety of topics including sports, pets, parenting, healthy living, local government and human interest stories. His work has been published on Care.com, Tom’s of Maine, Purina’s Petcentric.com and the Westford Patch. Steve’s been a diehard Syracuse sports fan for over 25 years. To this day, the words “Smart takes the shot” still make him cringe. Follow him on Twitter @Corner_Cube.
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