Item: Our annual chronological look at each game on the schedule, and if we think the Orange make it back-to-back bowl seasons for the first time since 1998-99. Part I was Penn State through N.C. State that ran last week. This week, Part II picks up with Georgia Tech through the end of the season.
In Atlanta the following Saturday there will be reminiscing about the basketball team’s Final Four visit to the city seven months earlier, but the immediate concern is to win an ACC game against Georgia Tech and end a two game losing streak.
Tech coach Paul Johnson’s unique Flexbone option offense can cause opposing defenses plenty of headaches preparing for a slew of RBs, two QBs, and other trickery, although SU actually outgained GT by nine yards overall last season. The game plan devised by coordinator Chuck Bullough with Scott Shafer’s tweaks stymies the Jackets offense to “only” 157 yards rushing, about half of their 2012 average, and a late TD pass from Drew Allen to second tight end Josh Parris ekes out a 21-17 win, with the game ball destined for the football wing’s trophy case for the first ACC victory.
Wishing they could play the following week off the emotional high of the season’s fourth win, instead it’s a good time to recoup, refocus, and take a few days off around the open week before November arrives, and it’s time to welcome Donovan McNabb back to town to have his number 5 jersey hung from the rafters of the Dome during a ceremony against Wake Forest.
In and around the rousing ovation for the greatest QB in SU history, the Orange come to play with a chip on their shoulder against a team picked two slots higher in the league’s pre-season poll. The Demon Deacons, coming of a last-second loss at Miami the week before to fall to 5-3, do not, looking flat for three quarters before coming alive with two 4th quarter TDs to pull within eight 30-22. But one last SU possession forces Wake to burn its timeouts and a surprising first down, end-around run by frosh superstar Brisley Estime ends matters as the clock winds down on win number five.
Orange Watch goes way back with Maryland coach Randy Edsall, as far back as to when Edsall was just another freshman football player at Syracuse living in all-male (at the time) Booth Hall trying to make a name for himself as a backup QB starting in 1976. Flash forward some 37 years later and it was a few minutes of fun and laughter recalling those days with the Terrapins boss at the ACC Media Kickoff last month, Edsall admitting it was once unusual to be competing to defeat his alma mater, but as with any longtime football coach, those feelings now evaporate when the whistle blows for kickoff.
In games in which Edsall has been on the opposing sideline against SU either as an assistant or head coach, he is 6-4, including wins in the last four as Connecticut head coach versus Greg Robinson and Doug Marrone-coached teams.
He’ll annoyingly add Coach Shafer to that list in this year’s game at College Park when a high snap on an extra point ruins the timing and Ross Krautman’s kick bounces off the upright midway through the first half. The missed PAT turns out to be the difference in the Terps 21-20 win, dropping SU to 2-3 in the Atlantic Division.
To make matters tougher, it’s on to Tallahassee next where in two of the six all-time games against Florida State the Orange have not fared very well losing by an average of 28 points in 1991 and 2005.
FSU, back ranked in the top ten entering the meeting with only a loss at Clemson, simply has too much speed and quickness on both sides of the ball. Redshirt freshman QB Jamesis Winston runs wild accounting for four TDs, and the ‘Noles pour it on against a tired Orange D, hurt by the loss of CB Keon Lyn on a controversial “targeting” penalty in the 2nd quarter, and not helped by the unusually warm (even by northern Florida standards) Indian Summer weather which takes its toll by the 4th quarter and FSU almost matches its average margin of victory at home in the series winning 42-18.
At an even 5-5 overall, but only 2-4 in conference, the Orange have work to do to get back to the postseason, but in a helpful scheduling quirk from the ACC office finish with the final two games at home against former Big East foes.
First up is Pittsburgh, the first conference opponent to play consecutive years in the Dome since Rutgers in 2004-05. Last year SU scored all of its 14 points in the first half of a 14-13 victory highlighted by great defense throughout, including a 52 yard fumble return for a score by returning starting LB beast Dyshawn Davis.
In eerily similar fashion this time around, its linebacker Marquis Spruill who grabs his third career fumble and rumbles 49 yards down the right sideline for a score, while the D repeatedly reintroduces Panthers QB Tom Savage to the Dome field turf evoking memories of SU’s 2009 beating up of then-Rutgers frosh Savage in a 31-13 upset of the 25th ranked Knights. The 24-13 win over Pitt has the ‘Cuse thinking bowl bid at 6-5/3-4.
To accomplish that goal it will take a win over a Steve Addazio-coached team in the regular season finale for the second straight year, only this time around instead of defeating Temple, its 4-7 Boston College on the Orange radar.
This game will turn out to be spotlighting the QBs. Syracuse will be in Eagles senior Chase Rettig’s face much of the game, while SU’s Drew Allen will say “goodbye” to the home crowd in his one short year on The Hill by passing for three scores before giving way to Terrel Hunt who also lofts a scoring pass in the 35-20 victory that secures bowl eligibility with a 7-5 finish, 4-4 in conference.
The bowl destination, however, will come about due to some unusual circumstances.
Both Clemson and Florida State will play in BCS games, the former the Orange Bowl the latter the Fiesta Bowl, bumping everyone else up one spot in the ACC hierarchy. With Maryland owning a tiebreaker over Syracuse from the regular season 21-20 win, the Terps get their choice between staying home in the Military Bowl being played 23 miles away in Annapolis this year against a C-USA opponent two days after Christmas, or spending New Year’s Eve day in Shreveport, La. for the Advocare V100 Bowl against a SEC foe.
Maryland opts to hit the road, sending the Orange to D.C. for several days of festivities before the game is contested at 34,000 seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, a venue Syracuse last played in 1989 against the host Midshipmen.
The opponent, an underwhelming name for Orange fans in Marshall, but none-the-less a dangerous team led by sophomore QB Rakeem Cato that fell to Tulsa by only three points in the C-USA title game, and won four of its last five games, the only defeat in that stretch also to Tulsa by 12 in the regular season.
On a windy, raw day, it’s the strong Syracuse running attack behind an equally impressive OL that carries the day in a 27-17 victory, with Jerome Smith joining fellow backfield mate Prince- Tyson Gulley as consecutive bowl game MVPs with 142 yards on the somewhat frosty ground.
Back-to-back 8-5, bowl victory seasons, will serve as a nice bridge between the Marrone and Shafer eras, and likely ensure the Orange program is better regarded among its ACC brethren heading into 2014.