The Syracuse offense showed what it hopes to consistently be over a 20-minute span on Saturday, rolling up 31 points to turn a seven-point deficit into a 41-17 victory over Central Michigan at the Carrier Dome. Three of the possessions lasted under 65 seconds and the longest ate up 2:32 as the Orange (2-1) scored five times on seven drives to blow out the Chippewas (1-2).
The big play, which had been missing from the SU offense in their first two games, complemented a defense that has been impressively stingy on the young season. Syracuse had four different plays from scrimmage of at least 40 yards, plus a 64-yard kickoff return. Sean Riley was surprise contributor, contributing the long kick return, a 41-yard run, and a 44-yard reception as part of his 247 all-purpose yards.
The Orange defense, which entered the game allowing opponents to convert only 14.8 percent of third downs, permitted CMU to convert 3-of-16 (18.8 percent) third-down opportunities. SU also forced three turnovers and held the Chips to 3.1 yards per carry.
The Orange offense started off the game well, but a 28-yard touchdown run by Dontae Strickland was wiped off the board by a holding penalty. Syracuse bounced back, managing points when Cole Murphy booted a 41-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
The SU offense went into the cooler after that opening salvo and a fumble by Markenzy Pierre a couple possessions later gave CMU solid field position. Three plays later, the Chippewas struck for a 56-yard touchdown pass and a 7-3 lead with over five minutes left in the opening quarter.
The ensuing Syracuse possession ended in another turnover, this time when Eric Dungey threw an interception deep in his own end of the field. The Orange defense held strong, giving up just a field goal that made it a 10-3 deficit.
While it was not another turnover, the following SU possession started off poorly when a penalty erased another big play, this one a 47-yard completion to Sean Riley.
Following the eventual punt, Evan Foster made a big play on defense, plucking a bobbled pass out of the air for an interception and returning it 24 yards for a touchdown. Murphy booted the extra point to knot the game at ten points apiece with under 90 seconds left in the first quarter.
Central Michigan got on the board midway through the second quarter to retake the lead at 17-10, but the Orange took over from there.
Sean Riley returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to the CMU 32. Six plays later, Strickland got a touchdown that was not erased by a penalty, making a sharp cutback on a swing pass and bolting in from 18 yards out. Murphy tacked on the conversion to knot the score at 17.
Christopher Fredrick blunted the following Chippewa drive with an interception, returning the ball 23 yards to the Orange 47. The offense quickly paid off, scoring in three plays. On the second play, Dungey hit Riley for a 44-yard completion, then Strickland stretched across the goal line for a nine-yard touchdown.
Murphy’s extra point gave SU a 24-17 lead that stood to halftime.
The first Orange possession after the break started at their own ten, but Moe Neal turned the field around in a hurry, blowing through the middle of the Central Michigan defense for a 71-yard run. Three plays later, Dungey waltzed into the end zone on a keeper from a yard out, capping a drive that lasted one minute and four seconds.
Syracuse almost tacked on another score less than five minutes later, but with one man to beat, Steve Ishmael had the ball punched away inside the CMU 25. The ball bounded into the end zone where the Chippewas covered it up.
SU forced a punt and Dungey ripped off a 74-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Following a timeout to catch his breath, the junior quarterback floated a lob pass to Ravian Pierce, who hauled it in for a six-yard touchdown. Murphy capped off the 31-second drive with an extra point for a 38-17 lead with 5:25 left in the third.
After a three-and-out, Syracuse moved to strike quickly again, this time starting their drive with a 41-yard run by Riley. Ishmael hauled in a 22-yard pass to get inside the ten, but the Orange were forced to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Murphy to close the scoring at 41-17 with less than three minutes on the clock in the third.
All told, Syracuse piled up 333 of their 579 yards in the third quarter. Steve Ishmael had a healthy chunk of that, catching eight passes on the day for a personal-best 139 yards, becoming the eighth player in SU history to log three consecutive 100-yard receiving games.
Eric Dungey completed 19-of-35 passes for 279 yards with a pair of scores and a pick, but also added a team-high 105 yards and a score on 11 carries, the second time he has cracked the century mark on the ground. Moe Neal added 81 yards on five carries while Sean Riley had 82 yards on four receptions.
Three different defenders were credited with turnovers as Evan Foster and Christopher Fredrick each had an interception while Scoop Bradshaw recovered a fumble. Austin Valdez was credited with causing that fumble.
Syracuse will face their first road game of the season next Saturday when they travel to Baton Rouge to face #12 Louisiana State. The Tigers (2-1) will likely be in a sour mood, as they will be sliding several spots in the polls following giving up the final 30 points of the night in a 37-7 loss at Mississippi State on Saturday.
The Bayou Bengals gave up 25 first downs and 466 yards of offense and will also be without two defensive players for the first half of their game against the Orange. Linebacker Donnie Alexander and defensive end Neil Farrell Jr. were both ejected for targeting penalties in the third quarter of the Mississippi State game, so they will not be available until after halftime against SU.
LSU, however, will rely on All-American running back Derrius Guice, who ran for nearly 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and 300 yards and four scores already this season. Guice will be a tough test for the SU defense, which is allowing 84.3 yards per game on the ground and 2.6 yards per carry.
The Syracuse-LSU game will start at 7:00pm Eastern on ESPN2. The game will also be available on ESPN3.com.