For two weeks, the good feelings of a 3-1 record and a strong performance against LSU buoyed Syracuse. Unfortunately, those buoys sank on Saturday when the Orange were wiped out in their first road contest of the season, gas they were manhandled at South Florida, 45-24.
The Bulls (2-3) trampled SU (3-2), rolling up 277 yards on the ground and 536 yards overall. Marlon Mack led the way for USF, rolling up 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 21 carries. As a team, South Florida converted 7-of-10 third downs and rolled up 26 first downs on the day. Before their final clock-killing possession, USF scored on seven of nine drives.
Meanwhile, the Syracuse offense was in neutral for most of the first half before getting into gear after the intermission. Those offensive shortcomings allowed USF to seize control of the game at 24-3 early in the third quarter and never look back.
South Florida was the first team to threaten the scoreboard in the game, as their second drive ended in a field goal attempt, but the kick stayed outside the left upright throughout its flight. Following SU’s third punt of the game, the Bulls did cash in, finishing off a 79-yard drive with a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter.
The Orange replied with a long drive that ate up over ten minutes from the clock. The drive was extended twice, the first time on a hands to the face penalty on USF to convert a third-and-7 and the second when Scott Shafer challenged a spot and was successful, giving SU a first down at the Bulls’ 11. Two plays later, a reverse flopped for a loss of seven and the Orange settled for a 30-yard field goal from Cole Murphy to cut the USF lead to 7-3.
The Orange defense forced a punt, but that is where things took a turn for the worse. Even though return man Brisly Estime called for a fair catch, the ball struck Kielan Whitner in the back and popped into the arms of a USF player, giving the Bulls possession at the SU 25. South Florida converted the break into three points on a chip shot field goal on the last play of the half and took a 10-3 lead into the locker room.
Six plays into the second half, USF scored a touchdown, stretching their lead to 17-3 less than two minutes after the game resumed. The Bulls then forced a quick punt and got two big pass plays, the latter a 42-yard touchdown toss on a flea flicker, to score and grab a 24-3 stranglehold with just over five minutes gone in the third quarter.
Down three scores, the Syracuse offense showed signs of life. The Orange went exclusively to the pass on their next possession and cruised down the field. From the USF 30, Eric Dungey eluded the pressure, then slung a pass to Jordan Fredericks. Fredericks eluded two tacklers, the second with a slick spin move, and sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown. Murphy tacked on the conversion, drawing the Orange within 24-10 at the midpoint of the third quarter.
Two plays later, the Orange defense made a major play. Chris Slayton notched a quarterback sack, knocking the ball loose. Marquez Hodge pounced on the ball at the USF 16, giving the SU offense a golden opportunity.
Three plays after, Dungey cashed in the turnover, scooting in from seven yards out for the second Syracuse touchdown in a 1:46 span. Murphy’s extra point made it 24-17.
The era of good feeling was short, as South Florida posted a touchdown of their own 48 seconds later. The extra point reinstated a 14-point Bulls’ lead with 4:53 left in the third quarter.
The Orange offense continued to be game and marched down the field once more. This time, Dungey closed the drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Steve Ishmael. Murphy again connected on the extra point and, once again, SU was within seven points, this time at 31-24.
Once more, South Florida chewed up the Orange defense, only two penalties played big parts on the possession. On the first set of downs, a holding flag forced the Bulls into 3rd-and-14, but SU could not stop them, allowing an 18-yard gain on a short pass. Later in the drive, Whitner committed a personal foul after an incompletion, sustaining the USF possession and moving the ball inside the SU 20. Two plays later, USF scored a touchdown for a 38-24 lead.
The next Syracuse possession ended on a Dungey interception and two plays later, the hosts tacked on another touchdown for a 45-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
The Orange drove to the Bulls’ 27 on the ensuing possession, but Dungey fumbled there, giving the ball back to USF with 4:55 to play. South Florida ran out the clock from there.
In his return to action for the Orange, Eric Dungey posted a solid stat line, connecting on 21-of-34 passes for 232 yards with a pair of scores, an interception, and a fumble. Dungey also paced a weak SU ground attack with 31 yards, needing 17 carries to get there. Steve Ishmael and Erv Philips each had five catches for Syracuse with the former grabbing a touchdown pass and the latter leading the team with 75 receiving yards.
For the second straight outing, Antwan Cordy topped the SU defense, this time logging seven tackles. Chris Slayton and Ron Thompson each had a sack, with Slayton forcing a fumble that Marquez Hodge recovered.
Conference action now heats up for SU, as they will play a conference foe on each of the next seven Saturdays to complete their schedule. The Orange will start that stretch next Saturday at Virginia.
The Cavaliers (1-4, 0-1 ACC) are not only looking for their first conference victory, but they are also looking for their first win of the season over an FBS opponent, as their lone victory has been over William and Mary. Embatted Virginia head coach Mike London is rumored to be on the hot seat, as he owns a 24-42 mark at the school and appears headed to his fifth straight losing season.
The two teams will kick off at 3:30pm and the game will be televised regionally, as well as available online at ESPN3.com.