Turnovers and missed calls hand SU a 28-7 loss to Cincinnati

“Bad stuff happens but you have to keep positive and keep moving forward.” - SU running back Delone Carter on his red zone fumble.

With all eyes on the backup quarterbacks coming into Saturday’s Big East football game between fifth-ranked Cincinnati and Syracuse, the Bearcats rode the plays of its second-string signal caller, Zach Collaros, to a 28-7 victory in the Dome before an announced Halloween attendance of 33,802 on Saturday afternoon. 

"When you are out on the field, you focus on what you have to do."
- QB Greg Paulus, about if he heard fans booing

Collaros, making just his second collegiate start in place of injured starter Tony Pike (fractured non-throwing arm), completed 22-of-28 passing attempts for 295 yards with four touchdowns. The Orange quarterbacks (starter Greg Paulus and Ryan Nassib) combined for 182 passing yards on 19-of-27 with one touchdown.   

Syracuse faltered with two crucial red-zone turnovers, including a Paulus interception at first and goal at the end of the first half.  Paulus has thrown 11 interceptions in eight games this season.

“We executed to get all the way to that certain point, and to turn the ball over in the red zone, it is not going to get it done, especially against a top-5 team,” said Paulus, sporting a pink tie after the game. 

The Bearcats rolled up 422 yards of total offense Saturday, with wide receiver Armon Binns posting a career-day with 138 yards receiving on five catches, including two touchdowns.

The first quarter saw the Bearcats strike for a big play early. Facing a third-and-11 from the UC 19 yard line, Collaros began running to the left side, stopped in his tracks before getting to the line of scrimmage, and flipped a pass back to Binns on the right sideline. All by himself, Binns caught the ball and bolted, untouched, 81 yards up the sideline for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead at the 7:24 mark.

Syracuse responded immediately with multiple packages, rolling substitutions and a healthy run-pass balance to post a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive.  The Orange tied the game on a nine-yard play-action pass from Paulus to tight end Cody Catalina. It was the first touchdown reception of Catalina’s career.

The Halloween ghosts arrived on the next Cincinnati drive that overlapped the quarters. After marching up the field, the Bearcats stalled at the SU 14 yard line. On third down, Cincy succumbed to the crowd noise, committing a false start. On the next play, SU tackle Art Jones smacked helmets with the UC center and received a five-yard offside penalty. 

With third-and-seven, the Bearcats attempted a run off the left side but running back Isaiah Pead was snuffed for a two-yard loss. UC trotted out the field-goal unit but the snap was hopped to the Cincy holder, who happened to be Collaros. He corralled the ball and drifted towards the near sideline, looking to make a play. And a play he did make, finding backup tight end Kazeem Aili in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown.

SU head coach Doug Marrone and the Orange sideline was irate about the officials missing calling illegal man downfield. Marrone even took timeout to scream at referee Gerard McCinn, who could be seen mouthing that the officials did not see the UC linemen in the end zone. 

When asked after the game what he though about the no-call, Marrone used humor to avoid criticizing the officials: “I don’t get paid to think, I just get paid to make great decisions.”

Down 14-7, the Orange ditched the quarterback switch for a drive near the end of the half.  Senior running back Delone Carter rushed five times, and broke three tackles on a 10-yard third-down reception, to power the drive. But with first-and-goal on the UC 8-yard line, Paulus locked in on senior wide receiver Mike Williams coming across the back of the end zone.  Bearcat safety Drew Frey read Paulus’s eyes and intercepted the pass to snuff the SU scoring opportunity.

Cincinnati rushed up the field, but a Jacob Rogers 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left as the clock expired.

The Bearcats showed little effect from the missed field goal, opening the second half with the ball at the SU 40 thanks to SU’s kicker, Rob Long,  sending the ball out of bounds.  Casllora picked apart the SU defensive backfield, driving Cincinnati 62 yards on seven plays. Casallora used his feet again to mend a broken play.  His first look left to Gilyard was covered and after getting flushed from the pocket, Casalora lofted a pass to the back of the end zone where Bennis outlept the SU defender for his second touchdown of the afternoon.

“Armon gets a lot of one-on-one opportunities and when he does, he’ll go up and get the football.  He is an outstanding receiver,” gushed Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly afterwards.

The Orange put together another productive drive in the third quarter.  Nassib got the call on crucial third and fourth downs, converting both opportunities. Facing fourth-and-three from the UC 34, Nassib ran the option to the right side, faked a pitch to Carter and plowed his way forward for the first down. Two plays later, on third-and-seven, Nassib found receiver Vance Chew underneath for a first down.

SU got down to the UC 7 yard line before Bearcat linebacker Derek Wolfe separated Carter from the football. Wolfe recovered the fumble, deflating the Dome crowd in the process.

“I really didn’t have control (of the ball) and it popped out,” said Carter of the fumble, “Bad stuff happens but you have to keep positive and keep moving forward.”

Displeasure with the SU offense, and its choice of starting quarterback, rained down in the form of boos from the crowd in the third quarter.  Each time Paulus made his way onto the field, the boo-birds got louder.  When Nassib would enter, the cheers rang loud. 

The Orange feigned ignorance when asked about the crowd’s reaction after the game:

“I didn’t even hear it,” said Marrone. 

“When you are out on the field, you focus on what you have to do,” said Paulus.

For Cincinnati and Collaros, it was nothing but treats on this Halloween. “It feels great to play this well, I couldn’t do it without the game plan we have, the help of our coaches and the other players.”

Syracuse hits the road next weekend, traveling to Big East foe Pittsburgh for a noon game. The Orange will be at Louisville the following weekend before returning home to face Rutgers in the final home game of the season at noon on Nov. 21.

Orangemen offensive tackle Jonathan Meldrum (73) wipes his eyes after Syracuse's loss to #5 Cincinnati 28-7.

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