Saturday afternoon, Syracuse could not take advantage of five first half turnovers by Connecticut and ended up dropping a 28-21 road decision. The Orange (5-4, 1-3 Big East) were the beneficiaries of three fumbles and a pair of interceptions by the Huskies (4-5, 2-2), but turned them into zero points, getting only a field goal attempt that missed out of those free opportunities. The loss was the second straight with bowl eligibility on the line for SU, who have failed to make bowls in consecutive seasons since the 1998-1999 campaigns.
A terrible start for Syracuse got them in a quick 7-0 hole. Connecticut returned the opening kickoff 61 yards and three plays later scored to take the lead. Two plays into their first possession, the Orange botched a handoff to give the ball away, but responded when Phillip Thomas intercepted a pass two plays later. After Syracuse was forced to punt, Cory Boatman jumped on a loose ball after a poor shotgun snap for a fumble recovery to give SU the ball back. Three plays later, the Orange gave the ball away again, this time when Ryan Nassib threw an interception. After the teams traded punts, Chandler Jones got the ball back for the Orange, forcing a fumble early in the second quarter that Ri’Shard Anderson pounced on for Syracuse. Again, the SU offense was punchless and the two teams each punted after their next two possessions. With just over three minutes left in the first half, the Orange moved the ball 40 yards in four plays to post some points on the board, scoring when Alec Lemon caught a short pass from Nassib and broke a couple tackles en route to a 20-yard touchdown. Ross Krautman tacked on the extra point to knot the game at 7-7. On the third play of the ensuing Husky drive, Chandler Jones sacked the UConn quarterback and forced his second fumble of the day. Brandon Sharpe pounced on the ball at the Connecticut 49 to set up the SU offense with 1:24 on the clock, but again the Orange misfired with the ball and punted. Phillip Thomas got the ball back for Syracuse, picking off his second pass of the half. His return and a penalty set up the Orange at the UConn 33. Three plays later, the Orange lined up for a 34-yard field goal for Krautman, but his kick sailed outside the upright and the game went to the break, still tied at seven a side.
The Syracuse offense immediately clicked after coming out of the break, converting the opening possession into a score when they drove 75 yards in ten plays. Nick Provo had the scoring honors, catching a six-yard touchdown pass from Nassib, who executed two fake handoffs before floating the ball to his tight end for the score. Krautman tacked on the extra point to give SU a 14-7 lead. Connecticut immediately responded with a touchdown drive to erase that lead. The Orange got the ball back with under six minutes left in the third and set off on another scoring drive, this time moving 76 yards in seven plays and scoring a touchdown when Dorian Graham took an end around seven yards for a touchdown. Krautman’s conversion was good, putting Syracuse back in front by seven at 21-14. Again, the Huskies matched the SU score, this time getting the tying touchdown just after the fourth period got underway. After stringing together three first downs on their next drive, the Orange gave the ball away when Nassib was picked off for the second time. The Huskies did what Syracuse could not, converting that turnover into a touchdown to take a 28-21 lead with just under five minutes on the clock. SU was able to convert one fourth down on their next possession, but failed when faced with one on the subsequent set of downs, turning the ball over to UConn with 1:31 on the clock. The Huskies drained the clock to hold on for the victory.
Alec Lemon had a big day for the Orange, catching nine passes for a career-high 157 yards and a touchdown. Ryan Nassib connected on 17-of-22 passes after halftime to finish the day with 24 completions on 39 attempts for 275 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a couple interceptions. Nick Provo caught seven of Nassib’s passes, all in the second half, to set the single-season record at Syracuse for receptions by a tight end with 39, breaking the record of 34 previously held by Chris Gedney, which he set in 1992. Antown Bailey had a tough game running the ball, collecting 50 yards on 16 attempts.
The Syracuse defense had a strong day on the stat sheet, amassing nine tackles for loss, including four sacks, three fumbles, and a pair of interceptions as a unit. Phillip Thomas had both of those interceptions, as well as leading the squad with ten tackles. Chandler Jones forced a pair of fumbles and had a sack. Dan Vaughan forced another fumble and also had a sack. Cory Boatman had a sack and a fumble recovery while Keon Lyn had a sack and Ri’Shard Anderson and Brandon Shape each had a fumble recovery.
SU hopes that the third time is the charm when it comes to securing their elusive sixth victory of the season on Friday night when they host South Florida for Homecoming. The Bulls (4-4, 0-4) have fallen hard after peaking at #16 in the polls, dropping their last four contests, all in conference play. Kickoff will be at 5:00pm Pacific and the game will be televised on ESPN2. The telecast will also be streamed online at ESPN3.com.