I’ll admit to not watching a snap of Syracuse‘s 37-36 victory over the University of South Florida on Saturday night. The game wasn’t televised in my area and I refuse to even try to watch the crappy ESPN3 feed. I don’t have a 46-inch LED TV in my living room so I can watch a grainy internet feed on my piddly 19-inch computer monitor. But I digress.
Needless to say, my thoughts on the game are based purely on the box score, which we all know is a sketchy proposition. If I were to see that Ryan Nassib went 27/40 for 328 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, I’d be thrilled. If I were to see that Jerome Smith added a punishing 127 yards on 28 carries, I’d think that Syracuse had this game well in hand.
And I’d be wrong (as usual).
As it turns out, the team on the other sideline came to play football too. South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels and running back Lindsey Lamar combined for 279 yards rushing as the Bulls nearly doubled up the Orange on the ground. Daniels played a nearly flawless game to pair with Nassib’s, adding 17 pass completions for 183 yards and a TD and no INT to his rushing total.
It was really a game of two halves for the Orange as they were down 20 at halftime and seemed ready to surrender a laugher to the last-place team in the conference. Nassib and company woke up in the third quarter, though, scoring 21 unanswered points before finally surrendering a USF field goal. That surge set up what was likely the biggest play of Syracuse’s season so far.After trading touchdowns to begin the fourth quarter and giving up another USF field goal, the Orange found themselves down 31-36 with 1:20 to play in the game. Now, we’ve seen this before. Syracuse was in a very similar situation against Rutgers, down eight with just over a minute to go. Nassib promptly threw an INT, essentially sealing the game for the Scarlet Knights. This time, though, the result was very different. Nassib drove the Orange 75 yards in eight plays, finishing with a one yard TD pass to Alec Lemon for a 37-36 lead with three seconds left to play. A missed two-point conversion attempt and a kickoff later, and Syracuse left Tampa with its fourth win of the season and third in conference play.
So, what to make out of these late game heroics? Well, for one, it was great to see Syracuse (particularly Nassib) be able to perform under pressure and get the winning score. I don’t think that anyone would seriously claim that Nassib is a bad quarterback, but every Syracuse fan has to recognize his penchant for pressing when the game is on the line. The result of very often terrible plays like the one we saw against Rutgers. This time he kept his head and was able to guide his team to a W. That was “good” Ryan. Let’s hope he’s here to stay.
Another trouble spot has been turnovers, of which Syracuse had none. I hesitate to say that the turnover problem has been solved. As I mentioned in my reaction to the UConn game, in the fifteen minutes or so of action I was able to watch, Syracuse fumbled twice. The Huskies were unable to recover, but I’d much rather the Orange not put the ball on the ground in the first place. Not having watched the USF game, I can’t say how many similar situations might have occurred against the Bulls, but two consecutive turnover-free games is a good thing. Much like “good” Ryan showing up to games lately, let’s hope this is the trend.
Still, as much good as can be taken from the game, Syracuse still had to win the game on a last second TD against the last place team in the conference. Don’t get me wrong. I see USF as very similar to Syracuse. The Bulls have talent and can put up some great numbers, but have struggled to translate that into W’s. In this game, it was a match up of inconsistent halves. USF came out fast while the Orange had one of their characteristics slow starts. Then, while Ryan Nassib was throwing TD passes in the third, all the Bulls could manage were field goals. Syracuse was fortunate in that they chose the second half to catch fire. Given the defense’s bend-but-don’t-break play in this game (USF kicker Maikon Bonani was 5/5 on FG attempts), I’m not sure if they could have held a lead if the positions had been reversed. The Orange were also a bit lucky in that they didn’t combine a slow start with a slew of turnovers, as has been their M.O. this season. It’s been discussed before. Bad starts and turnovers are hard enough to overcome on their own. It’s nearly impossible to win when you’re doing both.
Looking ahead, it’s hard not to see Syracuse having a legitimate shot in every game left on the schedule. Cincinnati might be 5-2, but two of those victories cam against Delaware State and Fordham and the Bearcats have only played two conference games. Mizzou is in a similar situation as Syracuse, at 4-4 overall, but only 1-3 in conference. And Temple, while not as bad as the team that got booted from the Big East all those years ago, is still Temple. The Owls are certainly capable of beating Syracuse, but it might be the only game left on the docket where the Orange might actually be the favorite (though likely not, since the game will be played in Philadelphia).
The one game where Syracuse is likely to be wholly outmatched is the last home game of the season against #10 Louisville. The Cardinals are undefeated and have a legitimate chance to add their names to the annual “undefeated team that won’t get a shot at a national title” argument. Still, if the Orange play like they did against UConn and in the second half against USF (or like they did in the second half of pretty much any game excepting Rutgers), they have a shot at spoiling L’Ville’s season. Or they coupld play like they did against Rutgers and lose by 30.