As should have been expected, Scott Shafer’s defense was well ahead of his team’s offense, allowing Syracuse to stay close, but ultimately lose their season opener to Penn State in East Rutherford, NJ, 23-17. The former defensive coordinator’s charges showed only a few cracks, giving up a pair of long touchdown passes in the second half, while the offense was clearly a work in progress, amassing only 260 yards. Drew Allen, announced as the starter at quarterback just before kickoff, got off to an efficient start, but fell off and ended up connecting on less than 50 percent of his passes and throwing a pair of interceptions for Syracuse (0-1). Allen Robinson, star wide receiver for the Nittany Lions (1-0), sat out the first half, but made a huge impact after the intermission, racking up 133 receiving yards.
Neither team was able to gain much traction on offense in the first half. SU got on the board first, converting a Micah Robinson fumble recovery into a field goal. Late in the first quarter, Robinson pounced on the ball after it slipped out of the Penn State quarterback’s hand, giving the Orange the ball at their opponents’ 43-yard line.
Syracuse advanced the ball as far as the 15, then settled for a 32-yard Ross Krautman field goal to take as 3-0 lead just over two minutes into the second quarter. That was the lone tally of the opening half for SU, while Penn State notched field goals on their last two drives of the quarter for a 6-3 halftime lead.
Penn State followed a Syracuse punt by displaying some offensive fireworks on their first possession of the third quarter, getting a 51-yard touchdown pass on the second play. Trailing 13-3, the Orange opened up their offense, as well, needing only two plays for a touchdown of their own. Allen completed a 55-yard bomb to Jeremiah Kobena, then Jerome Smith turned the corner and scampered into the end zone from ten yards out. Krautman’s conversion got SU within three points again at 13-10 with less than four minutes off the clock. Two PSU drives later, Syracuse cornerback Brandon Reddish made a huge play, stripping the ball from Allen Robinson after a long pass, then scooped up the ball and returned it 46 yards to the Penn State 27. The Orange could not capitalize on the turnover when Krautman failed to connect on a 43-yard field goal attempt.
Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions extended their lead to 16-10 with a field goal. The next PSU possession seemed to deliver the knockout blow, as a 54-yard touchdown pass and extra point put them on top, 23-10, with 11:39 remaining. After the Orange offense could not sustain a drive, defensive end Robert Welsh made a huge play, intercepting a Nittany Lion pass and returning the ball to the Penn State one-yard-line. Smith crashed into the end zone on the next play and Krautman tacked on the extra point to get SU within 23-17 with just under seven minutes on the clock. The Orange had two shots to try to complete the comeback, but those drives ended on a punt and an interception, the latter snuffing the comeback for good with 1:53 remaining.
The Syracuse defense carried the torch for the team, forcing four turnovers and holding Penn State to only 1-of-16 on third down conversions. Robert Welsh had a sack to go with his interception, while Jerami Wilkes also had an interception. Micah Robinson and Brandon Reddish each had a fumble recovery, Reddish’s coming on a fumble he caused. Marquis Spruill had a sack while fellow linebacker Cameron Lynch topped the team with ten tackles.
After hitting 6-of-7 passes to start the game, Drew Allen totaled 16 completions on 37 attempts for 189 yards and a pair of interceptions. The Orange ground game, which was expected to be the strength of the offense, failed to amass 100 net yards. Jerome Smith, whose two touchdowns were one shy of his season total last year, had 73 yards on 16 carries. Nine different SU players caught at least one pass, Ashton Broyld snaring four to lead the team.
The Orange have little time to correct their missteps, as they travel to Evanston, Illinois to take on #22 Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats opened their season with a 44-30 road win at California. The game will get underway at 6pm and be televised by the Big Ten Network.