The Orange trotted out on the field in their all blue uniforms and white helmets for Saturday’s game against Maryland at the Carrier Dome. Said one fan, grabbing a cold one at the concession stand prior to the game, “They look like a Pee Wee football team who got new uniforms, but couldn’t afford the helmets. Maybe they didn’t sell enough candy bars,” he laughed.
If only that fan knew what he was about to witness for the next three and a half hours, he may have chosen to go and watch a local Pee Wee football team under the bright sunny skies of Central New York, instead of sitting in the Dome, watching the Orange pile up penalties and give up big plays in a 34-20 loss to Maryland in front of 40,511 fans.
Syracuse outgained Maryland in total yardage (589-369), won the time of possession battle (32:14-27:46), forced them to punt seven times and had five red zone opportunities to Maryland’s two. But too many penalties on critical drives and three big plays-a 90-yard pass from Terrapin quarterback C.J. Brown to Brandon Ross, an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback William Likely and a blocked punt which resulted in a Maryland TD four plays later, doomed the Orange.
“We understand how the formula works and that is: win the turnover ratio by at least one by the end of the game, rush the ball for more than 50 yards more than our opponent and protect in the kicking game or don’t give up a big play. In two of those areas we came up short and that’s why we lost the game,” said second year head coach Scott Shafer.
Syracuse had its chances particularly in the first half, however, the game and the momentum went the Terrapins way midway in the second quarter.
Anthony Nixon blocked Riley Dixon’s punt giving Maryland good field position at the SU 28-yard line. Jacquille Veil then punched it in four plays later on a four yard run. Brad Craddock’s PAT kick was good giving Maryland a 24-13 lead.
On the ensuing SU possession, quarterback Terrel Hunt connected with Brisly Estime on a 20-yard pass. The Orange then moved into the red zone following a 51-yard completion down the sideline to Jarrod West, the longest completion of the season.
Two plays later, Adrian Flemming ran a slant pattern and Hunt threw the ball directly into the hands of Likely, who raced 88 yards in front of the Syracuse bench for a touchdown and a 31-13 lead.
“There was a miscommunication but Flemming did the right thing,” said Offensive Coordinator George McDonald. “This game goes back to what we have talked about which is emphasizing communication and focus. In that play, the communication broke down and it resulted in a negative play.”
Syracuse got the ball back with 3:37 left and moved it to the red zone again. Prince Tyson Gulley scampered for 39 of 95 his first-half yards, and Hunt connected with Estime on a 25-yard pass to give the Orange the ball on the Maryland 8-yard line. But then the yellow flags started to litter the turf.
First, Gulley was flagged for an illegal shift. Ivan Foy was whistled for holding, negating a Hunt rushing touchdown. Then, Nick Robinson was called for holding two plays later. The three penalties brought Syracuse back to the 29-yard line. A 15-yard run by Adonis Ameen-Moore and a six-yard pass from Hunt to Gulley helped set up a 25-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Norton in the closing seconds.
Norton’s kick went wide left and the Orange trailed 31-13 at the break.
In the first half alone, Syracuse posted almost 100 more offensive yards than Maryland (362-276) and had the ball six more minutes than Maryland, but the pivotal last seven minutes of the first half really set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Even still, before halftime we could have cut that thing down with a field goal and had a little bit of a feeling heading into the locker room that, ‘Hey, we have some momentum.’ It’s such a game of momentum, and then we missed the field goal there and that was disappointing,” Shaffer said.
Syracuse held Maryland to just a field goal in the second half and Hunt, who rushed for a career-high 156 yards on 23 attempts, punched in a one-yard TD with 48 seconds remaining in the game. Hunt became the first SU signal caller to record a 100-yard rushing game since Donovan McNabb vs. Miami (Fla.) in 1997. McNabb finished with exactly 100 yards against the Hurricanes.
Gulley finished with 138 yards rushing. As a team, SU racked up 370 yards on the ground and 219 in the air compared to Maryland’s 89 yards rushing and 280 yards passing.
“Usually when you rush 280-yards more, then you have a shot to win, but I look at those fleeting opportunities and you’ve got to come down with the ball. I never felt like we gave ourselves a push in the momentum to get ourselves on track,” Shafer said. “The defense came out there in the second half and kept fighting. Almost pitched a shutout in the second half, minus the fumble and the points off the field goal, so I was pleased with that.”
Syracuse will travel to MetLife Stadium on Saturday to face No. 9 Notre Dame in a primetime matchup at 8:00 p.m. on ABC TV.
“We’re just going to have to bounce back. We’re playing one of the best teams in the country in Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium,” Shafer said. “They’ve had a week off to prepare for us and it’ll be a great opportunity for our kids to really bounce back and go in there with some fire power and see who we are and continue to try and grow each week.
“We have to do a better job of controlling the things that we can control,” he added. “That would be penalties, pre-snap penalties and discipline with our hand placement, and trying to continue to work to get those turnovers. We’ve been good not giving them up until today and obviously those were costly.”