Couldn't grab the bull by the horns

The Syracuse University football team's bowl game hopes continue to waiver as the Orange falls to the University of South Florida, 37-17.

There were three chances to turn plays into touchdowns. Three golden opportunities to put points on the scoreboard and add to the team's touchdown total. Three chances to match the offensive output of the University of South Florida, a team with B.J. Daniels in its arsenal.

The first was a slant route to Dorian Graham, a passing attempt in the second quarter when the team was down by just 10. The second was another slant on third down, this time to David Stevens, which hit him in the hands.

Photo: Sterling Boin
Keenan Hale gets tackled by USF on Friday. SU lost to USF 37-17.

The third miscue was a deep pass to Alec Lemon on a critical fourth down in the fourth quarter, and a chance to make it a one possession.

Unfortunately, none of the intended pass catchers could hold on to the potential touchdowns. The missed opportunities simply proved too costly for the Syracuse University Orange on this day, as they fell to the Bulls of South Florida, 37-17.

“Obviously, we’ve lost our third straight (game),” head coach Doug Marrone said after the loss. “We got beat in all three phases.”

The win margin was shocking in that it involved two teams fighting for their Big East lives. South Florida, despite starting the season 4-0, dropped its last four games leading into Friday. Meanwhile, the Orange lost two straight after defeating then-No. 11 West Virginia in a nationally televised game on ESPN. Friday also marked Syracuse's homecoming. But it was the Bulls who took the fight to Syracuse, scoring the games first 10 points and generally dominating SU in every aspect of the game.

That’s not to say players on the Syracuse squad didn’t leave individual marks on the game. Lemon continued his development into one of the best receivers on the team, as he finished with 10 catches for a career-high 179 yards receiving and both Syracuse touchdowns. Nick Provo continued his march toward the John Mackey Award with four catches for 43 yards through the air. Phillip Thomas played one of the best games of his career, finishing with 14 tackles, including some pain-inducing hits on various South Florida receivers. 

But outside of those three, it seemed as if Syracuse just simply could not keep up with South Florida.

Syracuse’s woes on special teams continued. Jonathan Fisher saw his first punt travel a grand total of 11 yards before it curved toward the sidelines. Shane Raupers, taking kickoffs in place of a wounded Ross Krautman, booted his first attempt out of bounds, snapping the momentum from the first Syracuse touchdown.

The defense, as well, had no answers for USF's Daniels. The junior quarterback simply dominated Syracuse from start to end, finishing with 254 yards through the air and 117 on the ground. He also recorded a rushing touchdown and was close to adding one through the air before a goal-line fumble by wideout Victor Marc resulted in a touchback and gave Syracuse the ball on the 20.

“He’s a good quarterback,” linebacker Marquis Spruill said. “He played the zone read very well and he’s a double threat; he can move and he can pass the ball as well.”

It wasn’t just Daniels, though. Demetris Murray dominated the usually stingy Syracuse ground defense, rushing for 86 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 carries. Nearly the entire receiving group for South Florida had a hand in the victory, as 11 different players recorded a reception against Syracuse.

Offensively, there wasn’t much good news for the Orange, either. Sure-handed receiver Van Chew was lost early in the evening to injury, and did not return to the game. The senior, who had at least one catch in 22 consecutive games, was held without one for the first time since 2009.

Ryan Nassib, the quarterback for the Orange, seemed to have trouble establishing a rhythm during the game. Multiple throws were too high or too far for his receivers, resulting in his lowest completion percentage of the season, 50 percent. He also faced constant pressure, as he took three sacks and seemingly saw defenders close in on every play.
Plus, the ground game, usually a staple of the Syracuse offense, was nowhere to be found against the Bulls. Antwon Bailey, the running back capable of at least one 20-plus yard rush per game, finished with a longest rush of eight yards. He’d gain just 65 yards on the ground on 18 carries. Meanwhile, Nassib finished with a surprising 30 yards on the ground, most of it caused by scrambles to open parts of the field.
The only solace for the Orange? They’re heading into a bye week this week. Both the players and Marrone feel this time will offer a solution to the problem. With just two games remaining and the team sitting at .500, it’s a solution that needs to happen sooner, rather than later.
“The bye week comes at a good time,” Marrone said. “We get the extra practices and we’ll move forward and finish this season out the right way.”
If they don’t and the mistakes continue to pile, there might not be a postseason for the Orange. 

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