A quick take on Syracuse’s maddening 45-24 loss versus South Florida on a sunny and sauna-like 86 degree Saturday afternoon at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium:
WHAT HAPPENED: In a wild, back-and-forth second half, in which momentum seemed to change by possession, the Bulls (2-3, 0-1) scored two touchdowns in just over two minutes midway during the fourth quarter to stall a frantic Syracuse (3-2, 0-1) comeback, and hand the Orange its second straight defeat in the first road game of the season.
ANALYSIS: Unable to capitalize on its strong play against LSU two weeks ago until the second half against USF, the Syracuse comeback fell short against an offensively talented Bulls team led by its QB/RB tandem of Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack. Eric Dungey, returning from a concussion suffered September 19, took awhile to get into rhythm before bringing the ‘Cuse back with three second half scores, but his first interception of his career led to a Bulls fourth quarter touchdown that put USF up 14 on route to winning going away. Dungey finished 21-34 for 231 yards and two touchdowns in the air, and a team-high 30 yards rushing with a touchdown run. The Orange ‘D’ and special teams regressed against USF from the 3-1 September start, giving up key plays at inopportune moments while having to play catch-up on the road.
HEROES: Sophomores Flowers and Mack kept the Syracuse defense off balance from the get-go, with great play calling and execution, including a 42 yard flea flicker scoring pass in the third quarter, and two Mack scoring runs, including a 45 yard sprint, of his 178 yards in all on the ground. Flowers was 15 for 22 – 264 yards in the air with a touchdown run of his own.
ZERO: Poor true freshman safety Kielan Whitner, it simply wasn’t his day. A second quarter punt bounced off his shoulder pad with his back to the ball leading to a USF fumble recovery and last-play-of-the-half field goal to take a 10-3 halftime lead. Then, replacing an injured Antwan Cordy in the fourth quarter, Whitner was flagged for a personal foul for bumping into a Bulls receiver on a ball thrown out of bounds to keep the second-to-last USF scoring drive intact which for all intent put the game away with 9:00 to play.
WHAT’S NEXT: Syracuse stays on the road with an ACC crossover match-up against Virginia next Sat. Oct. 17 at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. The Cavaliers (1-4, 0-1) opened conference play on the road Saturday afternoon playing catch-up all day against Pittsburgh, before falling 26-19. Game Time: 3:30 p.m. ET. TV: ACC Regional Sports Network/ESPN3.