Syracuse Orange downed by Duke Blue Devils

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Syracuse’s offense struggled again to move the ball

Senior Day felt a lot more like “Groundhog Day” for Syracuse, as they hung in against a better opponent for the majority of the game, but simply could not get enough offense to support the defense, eventually falling to #22 Duke, 27-10. The Orange had their hopes of making another bowl game snapped as they fell to 3-7 on the season, including a 1-5 ACC record. The Blue Devils moved to 8-1 on the season and 4-1 in conference play.

With a roster riddled by injury, particularly among their offensive line and quarterbacks, SU was behind the eight ball entering the game. The Orange played well at times on offense, actually leading Duke in total yardage during the second half, but a couple crucial big plays went against Syracuse, allowing the Blue Devils to score 17 points in less than six minutes to blow open the game.

A 52-yard punt return touchdown broke a tie game in the fourth quarter, then an SU fake punt was stuffed, giving the Blue Devils the ball in the red zone and, eventually, a field goal. An interception on a deep ball two plays later gave possession back to Duke and the visitors capped the explosion by connecting their own long throw for their final score.

With Austin Wilson taking snaps for SU for the first time since the Florida State game behind a patchwork offensive line, Duke forced the Orange into a three-and-out, then took advantage of good field position set up by a nice punt return (and recovering their own fumble on that return) to grab a quick 3-0 lead on a short field goal.

» Related: Syracuse football can only become relevant again by winning

SU responded with an effective drive, moving 65 yards on a dozen plays, highlighted by a 20-yard run by Prince-Tyson Gulley. The drive fizzled out, though, leading to a 27-yard field goal by Cole Murphy that tied the score with under five minutes left in the first.

The Blue Devils responded with a big play, returning the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. The score was wiped out by a penalty flag and the two teams would combine for four non-threatening drives after that.

Just over four minutes into the second quarter, Duke marched 91 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown, breaking into the end zone on a short completion that turned into a 22-yard score courtesy of a slipped tackle. The extra point put the Blue Devils up, 10-3, with little more than five minutes left in the second quarter.

Two plays later, Duke had the ball again following an interception on a pass down the sideline. Syracuse would force a quick punt to get the ball back, but three plays after the change of possession, Wilson was injured on a scramble and sent to the sidelines. He was replaced by Mitch Kimble, the fourth quarterback to line up for the Orange on the season.

Kimble was able to gain one first down, but with the clock winding down, SU opted to call time out with one second remaining and try for a deep pass on the final play of the half. The ball fell harmlessly to the ground in the end zone and Syracuse went into the locker room facing that same 10-3 deficit.

The two teams combined for three consecutive punts to start the second half, but the Orange moved the ball well on their second drive. Ervin Philips ran for 17 yards to get SU into Duke territory and, three plays later, Jarrod West caught a sideline pass for a gain of 19. Two plays later, Kimble used a convincing fake handoff to get the Duke defense running way and countered back across the field, slipping past a pair of defenders and reaching the end zone from eight yards out. Murphy tacked on the conversion, tying the game at 10-10 with 5:18 left in the third quarter.

Neither offense could muster much on their next couple possessions and the game evolved into one of field position, as Duke used a 56-yard punt to pin the Orange at their own one. SU went three-and-out, giving the Blue Devils the ball in Orange territory. Three plays later, Brandon Reddish made a leaping interception on a deep ball thrown slightly behind the Duke receiver at the SU two-yard-line early in the fourth quarter.

Syracuse again went three-and-out, only this time, Duke made a big play on the punt, returning it 52 yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it a 17-10 game with just over two minutes off the clock in the final quarter.

With the Orange facing fourth-and-four from their own 31 on their next possession, Scott Shafer opted for a fake punt. Devante McFarlane was stuffed after only picking up a yard, giving the ball back to Duke deep in SU territory. After getting a first down, the Blue Devils settled for a 34-yard field goal that stretched their lead to 20-10 with just over nine minutes left.

Wilson returned for the Orange on the next drive, but on the second play, he threw a deep pass that was intercepted. Three plays later, the Blue Devils connected on a 54-yard scoring pass and the extra point made it a 27-10 game.

SU filed a pair of three-and-outs in the final seven minutes, never threatening to get back into the game.

The Orange offense only amassed 224 yards in the game while their defensive counterparts held the Blue Devils to 259 yards. Mitch Kimble and Prince-Tyson Gulley tied for a team-high 42 yards on the ground. Ben Lewis topped the receivers with a personal-best six catches and Jarrod West added four receptions for 45 yards.

The Syracuse defense put in a solid effort, as Durell Eskridge, Darius Kelly, and Micah Robinson each had seven tackles. The unit as a whole combined to break up eight passes, led by Robinson’s two, and Brandon Reddish forced the only turnover with an interception.

GAME NOTES:
Prince-Tyson Gulley passed the 2,000 rushing yard plateau in the game, becoming the 22nd player at Syracuse to reach that mark. Gulley also moved to seventh on the all-purpose yardage list at SU, passing Scott Schwedes, Kevin Johnson, and Marvin Harrison in the game.

With his 45 yards, West climbed to 1,791 receiving yards in his career, good for seventh in the school record book.

Syracuse gets a much-needed bye week before their next game, a trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday, November 22. The Panthers (4-5, 2-3) are idle this week, but travel to North Carolina next week prior to welcoming the Orange. Pitt will need two wins in their final three games to become bowl eligible, so SU will have an opportunity to play spoiler.

Game time and television coverage for the Orange and Panthers have not been set as of this time.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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