Party crashers

Louisville shocked SU, ruining the party and making the Orange wait another week to clinch bowl eligibility.

There was a celebration Saturday afternoon on the Carrier Dome's Legends Field, but it was not being performed by the Syracuse University football players or the 40,735 fans in attendance. Both saw the first attempt at securing bowl eligibility slip through their fingers as Louisville ran onto the field in victory at the conclusion of a game marred by missed opportunities and penalties.

"Personally I had a couple errors on those last two drives. That was tough. I definitely wish I would have made a couple more checks." -Ryan Nassib

The 28-20 victory was the first Big East road win for the Cardinals (5-4, 2-2 Big East) after losing eleven straight contests away from home. The game was an evenly-matched one throughout, but as in most tightly knit contests, the intangibles were what made the difference. Most notably for SU, a lack of discipline in the first quarter (six penalties) and multiple failed attempts to muster points in the fourth quarter were indicative of the entire game.

Head coach Doug Marrone reminded his players to get back to the basics that served them well in their two previous wins during a postgame speech.

“Basically we made mistakes,” said Marrone, in his second year at the helm. “Credit to Louisville. They were able to capitalize on those mistakes. We had a chance to make some plays. At the end of the day, really on all three phases, they capitalized on all of the mistakes we made. I told them at the beginning of the year, this is going to be a very difficult season. We’re gonna have to fight and scratch. Nothing is going to come easy in this game.”

Louisville got on the board first when running back Jeremy Wright burst through the SU defense on the right side for a 28-yard scamper. Wright filled in nicely for injured starter Bilal Powell, who ranked fifth nationally in rushing yards with 1,067 entering the weekend. Wright rushed for 98 yards on 19 carries and scored twice.

The Orange answered right back when Ryan Nassib threw a quick strike over the middle to Alec Lemon for a 51-yard touchdown, his fourth of the season. Many felt Cardinals wideout Andrell Smith got away with an illegal pushoff before catching an 8-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone from Justin Burke, who replaced injured starter Adam Froman in the starting lineup. Delone Carter’s 8-yard run up the middle for a score continued the back-and-forth battle to make it a 14-14 game in the second quarter.

SU took its first and only lead of the game with a field goal from Ross Krautman. To set up the field goal, defensive end Mikhail Marinovich delivered a crushing hit on Burke, forcing a fumble and causining the turnover in favorable field position.

Much to the dismay of the Syracuse fans holding their breath for a bowl bid, Louisville took over in the second half. The Cardinals came out of the break with another Wright touchdown, this time a 12-yard reception.

The play that most symbolized the day for SU occurred on their next offensive possession. Nassib targeted a wide open Lemon, but the reciever dropped a pass that would have led to a walk-in touchdown. Instead SU settled for another field goal from Krautman to pull them within one at 21-20.

When asked about the play, Lemon said the team did not blame the drop for the loss.

“You know, I took my eyes off it,” Lemon said. “Drops happen in the game. All we gotta do is bounce back. It feels good that my team is behind me.”

The Cardinals started the final quarter with a 90-yard drive capitalized with Burke finding tight end Josh Chichester open along the right sideline for a 21-yard touchdown. Down 28-20, the Orange still had chances to respond.

The SU defense stopped the Louisville offense on third down three straight times, but all the offense had to show for it were three straight Rob Long punts. The home team's final possession came with thirty-three seconds remaining in the game. Two straight Nassib incompletions put an end to a possible game-tying drive and silenced a crowd that had been deafening on many occasions that day.

Nassib, who completed 19 of his 32 pass attempts for 155 yards, faced relentless pressure all game from the Cardinals' defensive line and linebacking corps. He was sacked three times.

“They did pressure a lot more than we thought,” Nassib said. “Personally I had a couple errors on those last two drives. That was tough. I definitely wish I would have made a couple more checks.”

Though there was no avoiding the Cardinals pass rush, Marrone said he entered this week not wanting to put pressure on themselves amid talks of a possible bowl game.

“I was gonna build this game up as a game to win,”Marrone said. “But I wasn’t gonna build it up as this very high expectation because we just need to go out and play in a relaxed atmosphere.”

SU can take something positive from the game. They committed just two penalties in the second half. Senior linebacker Derrell Smith, who had a game-high 12 tackles, is already looking forward to next week's game at Rutgers. But Smith hopes that the Orange will be on the other side of the celebration.

“It’s very disappointing,” Smith said. “It’s like any other locker room when you lose a game. But the season isn’t over. We have a couple more games to get to our goal.”

Carter passes a legend

Despite the loss, bruising senior running back Delone Carter enjoyed a solid afternoon. He rushed for 107 yards on 21 attempts. Carter also passed NFL Hall of Famer Floyd Little for fifth place on the school’s all-time rushing list with 2,705 yards.

When asked about the feat, Carter didn’t want to focus on it too much.

“It’s an honor, he said.” “I’ll focus on that at the end of the season. “

Running back Delone Carter turns the corner on two Louisville defenders during Saturday's 28-20 loss at the Carrier Dome. (Photo: Aaron Katchen)

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