Syracuse’s 3-3-5 defense debuted to pretty solid reviews early in their season opener at #18 North Carolina. And then, the Syracuse offense showed the same issues as last year and the defense gave up 24 unanswered points in a 31-6 road loss against the Tar Heels.
SU drew within a single point midway through the third quarter on Andre Szmyt’s second field goal of the day, but Carolina matched that field goal with a little over three minutes to play in the third quarter. The next three drives for each school told the tale, as Syracuse failed to generate a single first down while the Heels rolled to three consecutive touchdowns, blowing open the game and effectively ending it with a little under ten minutes remaining.
The Orange hurt their own cause at seemingly every opportunity, no matter how much UNC tried to help them.
Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, a Mikel Jones interception gave SU the ball in scoring position, but the team turned the ball over on downs, failing to convert a fourth-and-one. Syracuse quickly forced a punt that Nykeim Johnson returned 83 yards for a touchdown, but a flag wiped out the score.
The second period did not go much better, as the Orange recovered a fumbled punt early in the quarter at the Tar Heels’ 21, eventually settling for a 37-yard field goal from Szmyt. That kick clipped the margin to 7-3.
Later in the second, SU had their best drive of the day, eating up 79 yards. Of course, it needed a roughing the kicker flag against Carolina on fourth down to keep it alive. But, as Syracuse got closer to the end zone, playing against both UNC and the clock, they had to settle for a 29-yard attempt by Szmyt from the right hash with just a few seconds on the clock. Szmyt’s kick never crossed the upright, staying wide. The score remained 7-3 in favor of the hosts at halftime.
Andre Cisco ended the first UNC possession of the third quarter with an interception on a deep pass, returning the ball 29 yards to the Tar Heel 48. The Orange marched further, getting a first down inside the five, but settled for a 24-yard field goal from Szmyt to draw within 7-6 with 8:11 left in the third.
North Carolina penetrated inside the SU five on their next drive, but Kingsley Jonathan came up with a sack on third down, forcing the Heels to settle for a field goal and a 10-6 lead.
The Syracuse offense offered nothing after that, going three-and-out. UNC answered with a 77-yard touchdown drive, scoring on the first play of the fourth quarter to push their lead to 17-6.
Another Orange three-and-out led to a 68-yard Carolina touchdown drive.
A third consecutive possession without a first down turned into a 38-yard punt return for the Heels and another touchdown just two plays later.
The game was effectively over, as SU was in a 31-6 hole with 9:37 remaining. The offense added a fourth straight three-and-out and Carolina subbed out their quarterback on the ensuing possession.
Syracuse struggled throughout the day, mustering 2.85 yards per play in the first half and 2.67 yards per play after halftime. The Orange converted just 4-of-19 third down opportunities in the game. Tommy DeVito suffered seven sacks on the day for a loss of 37 yards while completing just 13-of-31 passes for 112 yards. Taj Harris caught five of those passes, picking up 64 yards.
Andre Cisco and Mikel Jones each came up with an interception and long snapper Aaron Bolinsky recovered a fumble on a North Carolina punt return. Josh Black and Kingsley Jonathan each had a sack on the day. Black notched two tackles for loss, as did Drew Tuazama. Cornerback Garrett Williams led the team with nine tackles and was credited with one pass broken up.
Syracuse will travel to Pittsburgh next Saturday for another matinee. Pitt trounced Austin Peay in their non-conference opener at home on Saturday, 55-0. Six different Panthers scored in the first half as they held a 42-0 lead at halftime. Kenny Pickett completed 14-of-20 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown in just one half of play to lead Pitt.
Kickoff in Pittsburgh is set for 12:00pm Eastern and the game will be televised by the ACC Network.