With a couple exceptions, Syracuse’s opener went as well as possible at the Carrier Dome against Rhode Island. Oh, but the biggest exception.
Midway through the first quarter of the Orange’s 47-0 dismantling of the Rams, quarterback Terrel Hunt went down on a scramble and had to be helped off the field with what would be described after the game by head coach Scott Shafer as “an Achilles injury, and it’s not good.” Almost everything that happened after Hunt’s injury, however, was good.
SU did everything to be expected in a game against a weak FCS football team. They used their physical advantages in side and speed to make big plays on offense, defense, and special teams.
The last two facets showed up right at the beginning of the game. The Rams got a long return on the opening kickoff, but Syracuse kicker Ryan Norton forced a fumble and Dontae Strickland recovered for the Orange. Two plays later, Hunt gave the ball back to Rhode Island on an interception, but SU regained possession on the next play when Kayton Samuels pounced on the ball following a mishandled Ram handoff.
Two plays after a three-and-out, the Syracuse defense forced a turnover again. This time, Corey Winfield intercepted a tipped ball and used a pair of blocks to return it 24 yards for a touchdown. Cole Murphy tacked on the extra point and SU held a 7-0 lead with just over four minutes elapsed.
After Hunt left the game on the next possession, true freshman Eric Dungey entered at quarterback. On his second possession of the night, the Orange scored again. Two plays after freshman running back Jordan Fredericks broke off a 31-yard scamper, Dungey hit Erv Philips with a weakside screen pass. Philips handled everything from there, scooting into the end zone from 32 yards out. Murphy’s extra point made it 14-0 in favor of Syracuse with under three minutes left in the opening session.
The next Orange possession was their longest drive of the night, covering 76 yards in 14 plays. When the offense bogged down, Murphy came on to tack on three more points, connecting on a 23-yard field goal to extend the SU lead to 17 with just under nine minutes left in the opening half.
On Rhode Island’s first play back on offense, defensive end Luke Arciniega ripped the ball free from a Ram running back and Antwan Cordy covered up the ball. Cordy’s recovery set up the Orange offense at the Rhode Island nine. Two plays later, Dungey floated a pass to Philips, who leaped in the air to snare the ball, then came down to the ground across the goal line for a touchdown. Murphy’s conversion pushed the SU lead to 24-0.
Syracuse had one more possession before the half, but Murphy could not cash in, pushing a 43-yard field goal try well to the left of the uprights with 51 seconds left in the half. However, the Orange defense and special teams units made sure that was not the last scoring opportunity of the half.
The defense forced a quick three-and-out, leaving enough time on the clock that the Rams had to punt. When they did, Brisly Estime made it pay off, returning the kick 74 yards for a touchdown with the clock reading zeroes when he crossed the goal line. Murphy booted the extra point and SU trotted off the turf with a 31-0 lead.
Syracuse got the first possession of the second half and did not ease off the gas pedal. The Orange rolled up 72 yards in nine plays as they marched for another score. Fredericks capped this drive with a 13-yard touchdown run, showing great balance as he was nearly brought to the ground twice, but kept his feet and got into the end zone. Murphy’s conversion made it 38-0.
Both teams traded punts until late in the quarter. Following a Riley Dixon 64-yard punt that was downed at the Rams’ four-yard-line, the Orange added a safety to their side of the ledger. On second down, the Rhode Island quarterback threw a pass in his own end zone. The ball was batted back to him and he caught it, then scrambled and threw a second pass, drawing a penalty flag for an illegal forward pass. Since the illegal pass was made in the end zone, SU was awarded a safety, stretching their lead to 40-0 with under two minutes left in the third quarter.
Austin Wilson took over the quarterbacking duties for the Orange following the safety and his second drive resulted in the final tally of the night. Strickland capped the six-play, 55-yard drive when he took a jet sweep 21 yards for a score, employing a nice cutback to create enough space to finish the play. Murphy’s extra point made it 47-0 with over 11 minutes still on the clock.
The Orange had one more possession, taking over the ball with 9:20 left on the clock. SU literally ran out the clock, grinding out 14 straight running plays that earned four first downs before downing out the remaining seconds.
Syracuse outgained the Rams by a 426-64 margin, including a whopping 312 yards on the ground. Nine different rushers carried the ball for the Orange, paced by Jordan Fredericks with 14 carries for 103 yards and a score while walk-on Jacob Hill piled up 75 yards on 17 carries, all in the last quarter and a half of the game. Eric Dungey completed 10-of-17 passes in the relief effort for 114 yards and a pair of scores, both going to Erv Philips.
The defense also saw a lot of players hit the field and Zaire Franklin led them all with six tackles, two of which were for loss, including the Orange’s lone sack of the night. In addition to Corey Winfield’s interception, two different SU players (Luke Arciniega and Ryan Norton) forced fumbles while three different players (Antwan Cordy, Kayton Samuels, and Dontae Strickland) were all credited with fumble recoveries.
Syracuse will play the second of four straight at home next Saturday when they welcome Wake Forest to the Carrier Dome for the ACC opener for both teams. Like the Orange, the Demon Deacons routed an FCS school in their season debut, routing Elon at home on Thursday night, 41-3. Wake quarterback John Wolford threw for three scores and added another on the ground in the game as they rolled up 591 yards as a team. The game is slated for a 12:30pm kickoff and will be televised regionally by the ACC Network, as well as streamed online at ESPN3.com.