Syracuse football: Long and Ishmael's breakout game not enough against Florida State

The freshmen connected for two touchdowns to help the Orange build offensive momentum for the rest of the season.

Right now, Syracuse simply does not have the firepower needed on either side of the ball to compete for Atlantic Coast Conference championships or be a nationally-recognized threat.

But Saturday afternoon, quarterback AJ Long and wide receiver Steve Ishmael showed the No. 1-ranked team in the country the Orange could reach that level fairly soon.

"I just wanted to come in and show my talents, show them that Syracuse is on the rise. That's what we did."
- Steve Ishmael

The two freshmen connected on a pair of touchdown passes in the second half to ignite a previously sputtering SU offense, but they weren’t enough to overcome a huge 25-point deficit as Florida State cruised to a 38-20 victory in front of 43,295 fans at the Carrier Dome. Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns, while the FSU defense forced three turnovers to send Syracuse to a fourth-consecutive defeat.

The record books will say the game was a loss for Syracuse and nothing else. But for the first time in weeks, the Dome was full of energy all four quarters.  The chemistry between Long and Ishmael generated much of the buzz.

“It was an amazing connection,” Ishmael said. “We’re going to continue building from here on out, plan on getting some more extra work. We’re just gonna keep on doing that.”

Austin Wilson started under center for the Orange (2-4) and promptly threw an interception on his first drive, giving Long his chance to shine.

The product of Friendship Christian High School started slow, completing only three of his first nine passes.  But once the Seminoles had built a 31-6 advantage in the third quarter, Long started to finally find a rhythm. He led SU on a five-play scoring drive, which he finished with a 22-yard strike to Ishmael in the end zone.

“It was an awesome experience and one that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Long said. “You couldn’t write a script any better for a true freshman that everybody thought runs his mouth before to come out and play the No. 1 team in the country.”

There was, however, one area of the field that continued to give the Orange nightmares.

SU had four opportunities in the red zone, yet failed to score a touchdown. By pressuring Long and crowding the line of scrimmage, the Seminoles (6-0) were able to force turnovers and field goals, maintaining a comfortable advantage throughout the game.

One of those giveaways was Long’s interception with about three minutes remaining in the third quarter. The freshman took full blame, saying he ran away from his receivers and wasn’t able to throw out of bounds.

SU head coach Scott Shafer said those blunders are part of the growing pains for a young quarterback.

“AJ was just the way I thought he would be,” Shafer said. “Did he make mistakes? Yes. All in all, opportunity to be baptized under fire against No. 1 in the country… I thought the kid did a pretty damn good job.”

Long responded by connecting with Ishmael again in the fourth quarter. This time, the latter found himself open in the middle on a crossing pattern and sped to the end zone for a 35-yard score.

The Orange failed to score again, but its newest duo had already made its mark. Long set a program record by completing 16 passes for 167 yards as a true freshman, while Ishmael’s 93 receiving yards established a new career high.

Sure, the Orange squandered a number of scoring chances and ultimately fell. However, both Long and Ishmael were excited to give Syracuse fans a glimpse of the future.

“It was a real blessing because (the Florida State coaches) were gonna offer me,” Ishmael said, “but they ended up taking two other receivers. I just wanted to come in and show my talents, show them that Syracuse is on the rise. That's what we did."

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