SU football survives Toledo offense

Toledo pushed Syracuse to the brink of an upset Saturday, but the Orange secured the victory in overtime, 33-30.

Photo: Sterling Boin
Syracuse students celebrate as SU makes the game-winning field goal against Toledo on Saturday afternoon.

It wasn’t pretty.

First, Ryan Nassib missed a snap that sailed 21 yards away before being recovered by Toledo, causing hearts to stop all across Central New York; not to mention every single moment Eric Page had the ball in his hands. Next were the missed opportunities for touchdowns, opening the door for the team that had already displayed its offensive capabilities. 

Even the good plays were lacking. The last touchdown, from Nassib to Alec Lemon, put Syracuse up 30-27 but seemed to hang in the air for minutes, wobbling all the way. Even the kicking game struggled. Though Ross Krautman made four field goals, including the game-winner, he nearly missed a crucial extra point attempt with 2:07 left in the game. Replay officials failed to reverse the call, but after the game, Big East officials concluded the play should have been overturned because the ball "clearly passes outside the right upright." 

Sure, it wasn’t pretty. But at the end of the day, the Orange needed to make the plays to ensure they would secure their third win. And to that end, Syracuse deafeated the visiting Toledo Rockets in overtime, 33-30.

 “A win is a win,” cornerback Kevyn Scott said, echoing a common sentiment of the team in 2011. “At the end of the season, they don’t ask you how. They ask you how many.”

In fact, there might not be a better microcosm of the game for SU than Scott’s performance. The cornerback is the leader of the secondary, one that was absolutely torched by Toledo’s Eric Page all game long. Page seemed to be able to do whatever he wanted against SU's secondary, turning slant routes into 25-yard adventures.

Yet at the end of the game, the player whose unit had been beaten and had to try to cover an elite wide receiver as he sprinted up the sideline, made the play when it counted the most.

“I was hoping he threw that ball,” Scott said of his game-changing interception. “When I was in my press coverage and I turned around and looked for the ball and I saw it was coming, it was like a baby seeing candy.”

Like Scott, being in the right place at the right time seemed to be the Orange's theme of the day. It especially held true for players who weren’t known for their contributions.  

Consider Jarrod West, who until this afternoon had not made a catch in a Syracuse uniform. He made two drive-saving catches on third-and-long during the contest, including a 39-yard catch that set up a critical second-half touchdown.  

Prince-Tyson Gulley, the running back who rushed for just 97 yards in his career until today, broke free with a 66-yard performance, including a critical 21-yard run that set up Syracuse’s first touchdown.

Cameron Lynch, the freshman linebacker who has seen playing time since the year began, racked up eight tackles, including the lone sack of quarterback Austin Dantin.

“There’s a couple players out there that did a nice job,” head coach Doug Marrone said of his new contributors.

That’s not to say the regular starters didn’t pitch in.  

On the defensive side of the ball, free safety Phillip Thomas once again led the unit in tackles. Linebacker Dan Vaughan and defensive end Mikhail Marinovich seemed to have a hand in every play, either pressuring the quarterback or laying a hit on the ball carrier.  

And who could forget Marquis Spruill’s effort. Spruill, a sophomore middle linebacker, couldn’t start the game due to an undisclosed injury. Yet he still managed to stand out, stopping plays in the passing game, including an incredible deflection on the third down that stopped a Toledo drive.

“Marquis was struggling during the week, earlier in the week, getting a couple reps here and there,” Marrone said. “He wound up playing and made a great play defending a pass out there.”

Offensively, the team received its contributions from the usual playmakers. Nassib threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns, recording his lowest amount of attempts on the year. Senior running back Antwon Bailey had what is to be considered his most potent game of the year. Bailey finished with 114 rushing yards, including a momentum-swinging 20-yard touchdown to open the second-half scoring.

Starting tight end Nick Provo decided to display his skills on a day honoring the greatest tight end out of Syracuse University, John Mackey. Provo, who had three receptions on the day along with Van Chew, showcased his hands in the Orange’s first touchdown. On another reception, he turned what looked like a 5-yard reception into 26. 

“I was just trying to make a play,” Provo said. “I was just trying to get us close to the end zone so we could score and put the game away.” 

Even with those catches Provo could not outshine Toledo’s Page. The Biletnikoff Award candidate padded his resume against Syracuse with an incredible 13 catches for 158 yards. Page also returned the kickoff for a touchdown after the Orange’s first points. However, an illegal block nullified the play.

Page wasn’t the exception to Toledo’s play. David Fluellen and Morgan Williams, making appearances after starter Adonis Thomas suffered an injury, combined for 94 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries. Dantin, who seemingly seized Toledo’s quarterback position in this game, finished with over 300 total yards.  

The Rockets had more offensive yards and first downs than the Orange. They opened the game with an unbelievable 22 play, 75-yard drive that took nearly 11 minutes off the clock and could seemingly move the ball down the field on a whim.

Though in the end, none of the offensive statistics, defensive schemes or opinions mattered. The only thing that mattered was the final score. SU did what it needed to pull out this game.

“We needed to play hard to win this game,” Marrone said. “If we would have let a little bit down, we would have been in trouble.”

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