At the end of a tumultuous week which included starting quarterback Terrel Hunt being placed on the shelf with a broken leg and a swap at the offensive coordinator spot (George McDonald out, Tim Lester in), #1 Florida State coming into the Carrier Dome was supposed to be the final crushing blow for Syracuse. In actuality, the Orange put forth a valiant effort, but simply could not keep up the Seminoles, dropping a 38-20 decision on Saturday afternoon.
While FSU (6-0, 4-0 ACC) was clearly the superior team, SU (2-4, 0-2) played hard throughout the contest and showed that hope clearly remains. Behind two wet-behind-the-ears quarterbacks in redshirt freshman Austin Wilson and true freshman A.J. Long, Syracuse posted 412 yards of offense on the day and converted 7-of-14 third downs after coming into the game with a 33.8 percent conversion rate. The problem was that the team still had significant issues in the red zone, including coming up with only two field goals in four first half visits.
For large portions of the game, the Orange defense played a less aggressive style to avoid giving up the big play and force the ‘Noles to grind out drives. While this did help slow the high-powered Florida State offense, the visitors were all too happy to accept consistent gains that allowed them to continually move the chains and eventually hang 482 yards on the SU defense. Syracuse also came up with two fumble recoveries, but a pair of dropped interceptions hurt greatly, as both came on drives that would eventually result in FSU touchdowns.
Austin Wilson was given the start for SU, and after the Seminoles started the affair with a long touchdown drive, but together a solid possession of four first downs. The drive ended, however, when a scrambling Wilson threw a 3rd-and-11 pass right to a Seminole defender for an easy interception. On the ensuing drive, the Orange defense allowed the visitors to reach as far as the SU 11 before stiffening. Florida State still cashed in with a short field goal to extend their lead to 10-0 with just over a minute left in the first quarter.
A.J. Long was given the keys for the next Syracuse drive and directed the offense as far the ‘Noles four. Tight end Josh Parris could not come down with a pass in the back of the end zone, but the Orange eventually got on the board with a 21-yard field goal from Cole Murphy to clip the margin to seven.
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Following another FSU touchdown march, Long stayed at quarterback for the Orange, but his second drive was not as successful. Riley Dixon’s punt pinned the visitors at their own six-yard-line, setting up the first FSU turnover. Two plays after the punt, Robert Welsh jarred the ball loose and John Raymon pounced on the ball to give the Orange offense prime field position at the FSU 16.
The Orange offense sputtered again, though, and could only muster a 32-yard field goal from Murphy to pull within 17-6 just past the midpoint of the second quarter. Florida State again marched for a touchdown, this score making it a 24-6 game with under five minutes remaining before half.
With their next possession, Syracuse made a big play with Wilson back at quarterback when he connected with Jarrod West for a 41-yard pass play to set up first and goal at the FSU 10. The Orange could not convert, though, opting to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the six-yard-line. Wilson could not connect with Steve Ishmael, though, and the Seminoles held their 24-6 lead at halftime.
After SU went three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, the visitors tacked on another touchdown, extending the lead to 31-6. The Orange responded quickly, using a 35-yard run by Prince-Tyson Gulley to get into Florida State territory, then Long lofted a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ishmael. The score put a jolt into the Carrier Dome crowd and Murphy’s extra point made it a 31-13 game with just over six minutes left in the third.
The Orange defense was charged up, forcing a quick FSU punt. Their offensive counterparts were not up to snuff, however, and were forced to punt just as quickly. This time, the Seminole return man muffed the punt and San Rodgers pounced on the ball for Syracuse at the Seminole 21.
On the next play, though, Long showed his inexperience, trying to make a play while scrambling. Instead of just throwing the ball out of bounds, he tried to make something happen and did so, only it was an easy interception for Florida State.
The Seminoles responded with another long drive culminating in a touchdown, this one pushing their lead to 38-13 just over a minute into the fourth quarter.
Two plays into the next Orange possession, Wilson was forced from the game after taking a hit. Two trainers escorted the quarterback to the sidelines, then to the locker room. Long returned to the game, taking control at the SU 30. Six plays later, the Orange were in the end zone when Long found Ishmael on a crossing route. After securing the ball, Ishmael raced downfield and eventually lowered his shoulder to bull past and over a pair of Seminole defenders to cap a 35-yard touchdown pass. Murphy’s extra point pulled SU within 38-20 with 10:37 left on the clock.
After Florida State made a first down, Syracuse forced a punt and took over at their own 12. Three first downs had the Orange approaching midfield. On a first down from the SU 45, Long was back to pass and looking deep. His arm was hit as he threw the ball, causing the ball to flutter and land in the arms of a Seminole defender with just over five minutes left. Florida State drained the clock from there, but at the conclusion, the remaining fans in the Dome rose to their feet to salute the Orange for their effort.
Syracuse will likely have its third starting quarterback in as many weeks next Saturday, even if Austin Wilson had not left the game with an injury. A.J. Long impressed in his debut, connecting on 16-of-27 passes for 167 yards with two scores and two picks. Prince-Tyson Gulley paced the SU ground game with 16 carries for 80 yards. Adrian Flemming, Steve Ishmael, and Jarrod West each had three receptions in the game, but Ishmael led the way with 93 yards and a pair of scores.
As he has done in five of six games on the season, Cameron Lynch topped all Orange defenders in tackles, finishing with nine stops. John Raymon and Sam Rodgers were each credited with a fumble recovery, one of which was forced by Robert Welsh. Ron Thompson had the only SU sack on the day.
Next Saturday, Syracuse returns to the road, this time to play at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons (2-4, 0-2) were idle this weekend and look to snap their two-game slide when the Orange come calling. Only one of Wake Forest’s victories is over an FBS opponent, as they rallied to edge Army three weeks ago by a 24-21 score.
Kickoff is slated for noon Eastern for the Orange and the Demon Deacons. The game will be televised regionally, so please check your local listings.