For the second straight week, the Syracuse Orange relied on its stingy defense to propel it to a hard-fought 20-3 road win over the Maryland Terrapins this past Saturday. Along with the 13-0 shutout of Wake Forest the week before, the Syracuse’s defense has rebounded nicely from the 56-0 thrashing suffered at the hands of Georgia Tech.
The win over the Terps can’t be emphasized enough as the Orange (5-4, 3-2 ACC) moved within one game of bowl eligibility. Syracuse currently sits in third place in the Atlantic Division of the ACC, one game ahead of Boston College. The Eagles visit the Carrier Dome on November 30 in what could be a battle for a spot in the post season.
In addition to holding Maryland to just a field goal, Syracuse used its punishing ground game to hammer away at the Terrapins like it has done to its opponents this year. Jerome Smith rushing for 118 yards on 28 carries. Smith scored both touchdowns for the Orange. A one yard plunge in the first quarter and a 21-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that for all intents and purposes salted the game away. Prince-Tyson Gulley left the game early on with a sprained ankle after only one carry. George Morris II and quarterback Terrel Hunt picked up the slack for Gulley. Morris ran for 50 yards on seven attempts while Hunt accumulated 69 yards on seven rushes.
The defense left its mark as well holding Maryland to 292 total yards from scrimmage. Only 81 of those came on the ground. Syracuse won the turnover battle as well intercepting quarterback C.J. Brown twice including one on the end zone by Durrell Eskridge and recovering two Maryland fumbles. Scott Shafer’s defense also held the Terrapins to 5-of-17 on third down conversions.
Despite keeping its second straight opponent out of the end zone, the win was by no means easy. Two areas of concern reared their ugly heads again yesterday.
Penalties, penalties, penalties
Syracuse committed a season high 12 penalties yesterday for 115 yards. Consider the Orange was flagged for three yards less than Smith ran for on offense. That’s a problem that has yet to go away as Syracuse has been called for at least seven penalties in every game this season. Not only do penalties stall drives for the offense but they can keep drives alive for the other team’s offense thus keeping the Orange’s defense on the field longer than need be.
Move the chains
Though the defense held Maryland to only 29 percent on third down, the Syracuse offense was even worse converting only 3-of-14 attempts. Part of the problem has been Hunt’s inability to put up big yards in the passing game by moving the offense down the field with big plays through the air. Defenses can stack the line of scrimmage against the run until Hunt and the receiving corps discovers a way to make them pay. Converting third downs and extending drives is not only vital to winning on the road but to also running the clock out when Syracuse has the lead at the end of games.
Three games remain in the season. At Florida State on Saturday followed by back-to-back home games against Pittsburgh and BC. The Seminoles have been annihilating opponents as they have their eyes on a date with Alabama for the national championship. Syracuse will have to play a perfect game and catch FSU flat to have any shot to win. The Panthers and the Eagles are both winnable games for the Orange. After taking care of business against Maryland, Syracuse has put itself in the enviable position of needing only one win in its last two home games to become bowl eligible.