Syracuse fans started heading toward the exits with 7:34 left in the third quarter.
Northwestern had just scored a touchdown, capping an 8 play, 73 yard drive. That made the score 35-13, and the air seemed to collectively deflate from the Carrier Dome.
The lesson from Saturday afternoon? Never leave the game early.
The Orange scored four unanswered touchdowns after that and took a 41-35 lead with 2:40 left before Northwestern finally put together a scoring drive for a 42-41 win. Prior to that score, the game resembled last year’s opener at the Dome, when SU rallied from a 15-point deficit with 11:02 remaining to defeat Wake Forest, 36-29, in overtime.
Though the ultimate result was different, the Orange still showed some toughness.
“I give our kids credit,” Marrone said. “They fought.”
After Northwestern opened up its largest lead of the game, quarterback Ryan Nassib completed six of eight passes on a 14 play, 77 yard drive as Syracuse ended its scoring drought.
The defense forced a three and out, and four plays later, Nassib heaved 50-yard pass to Jeremiah Kobena who walked into the endzone to make it a one score game as the third quarter ended.
There was a noticeable difference in Syracuse’s play calling that sparked the run. The Orange started to take more shots down field, flustering the Wildcats, who were whistled for four pass interference calls.
“I wanted to take shots,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “We missed a couple in the beginning but once we started hitting them things started going.”
Nassib would throw two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Orange offense started to percolate.
“We started clicking,” Nassib said. “Unfortunately, It was too late for us to take over the game.”
The Orange will have a week to think it over before they travel to MetLife Stadium to take on No. 1 USC.
“You know to work so hard to get to that point,” tackle Jay Bromley said. “To come all the way back and to lose by one point in the end it was devastating, but you have to learn from it and not put yourself in the predicament to lose.”