If you take away his first play and his final play of the game, Greg Paulus played a very decent, very acceptable football game today. Unfortunately, both of those aforementioned plays, a fumbled snap and a backbreaking interception in OT, led to Minnesota points and ultimately undid all of the positive things Syracuse did today.
In the first quarter, the Orange trailed 14-3 and it looked liked business as usual. Turnovers, Swiss cheese defense, offensive ineptitude...all of the hallmarks of the Greg Robinson Era had reared their ugly head. Then...things changed. The offense found something in the "Stallion" formation. Delone Carter broke out. Greg Paulus found some balance. And then Mike Williams found himself wide open in the end zone for a touchdown. The defense suddenly locked down and turned Minnesota into the team that struggled on 3rd down and punted the ball at will. Coupled with another Ryan Lichtenstein FG, the Orange took a 20-14 lead into the locker rom.
Who was this this team and where had they come from?
Well apparantly they decided not to return in the 2nd half so perhaps we've never know. The Orange D handled Minnesota for the 3rd quarter, keeping them somewhat in check and limiting them to a field goal. But the offense disappeared. No points, no killer instinct, tons of penalites and a lack of that same fire. The Orange still led 20-17 but the momentum had shifted.
In the fourth quarter, the Orange were hanging on for dear life. The offense had moments (flashes, if you will), especially by Delone Carter who had restablished himself quite well as big dog on offense. But again, no points. Finally, the defense began to crumble. WR Eric Decker tore the secondary up and made some "how the F did he just do that" catches.
The video game has decided Minnesota was going to win. Suddently every pass was complete. Every run was solid. Every penalty was against SU. The tide had turned. With little tim remaining the Gophers tied the game up 20-20. The Orange had a little under a minute to make things happen but the 1-minute drill looked...rough. Time bled off the clock and Paulus ended up on his butt.
In overtime, the Orange started with the ball and looked like a team determined not to let this one get away. Delone Carter broke tackles like it was his job (which I guess it is) and the Orange quickly found themselves inside the ten. On 3rd down, the Orange went with a pass.
The play was obviously supposed to be a fade to Mike Williams in the endzone but Paulus didn't pull the trigger. He scrambled, he ran, he evaded. At this point it was clear the play was broken. Paulus should have thrown it away and let Lichtenstein kick the field goal. A more experienced QB would hav recognized it immediately. But Paulus, not having those legs under him yet, forced the issue. He threw his worst ball of the day into a sea of white shirts. Interception.
It was just a foregone conclusion that Minny would drive as closely as possible for the game-winning kick. They did. And they did. Paulus hung his head on the sideline and did nothing to hide the fact that he felt horrible. It's appreciated, and that's the good thing we get with Greg. That kind of senior leadership and ownership that takes responsibility. But with Greg we also get the decision-making snafus of a freshman who's never played against this level of defense before.
My gut tells me this was good thing long-term for the rest of the season. That Greg learned so much from the experience that by the time we get into Big East play, he will be a better decision-maker for it. That said, it still sucks to lose this one. We could have won. We should have won.
The Glaude, one of the many Syracuse tweeting all-stars today, puts it best:
There are no moral victories. But I can handle this.
Syracuse fans saw potential. Today. Lots and lots of it. This team can win some games. They just need to get out of their own way. The penalties. The dropped passes. The bad decisions. All of it correctable. All of it sure to be corrected by Doug Marrone.
Paulus finished 19 of 31 for 167 yards, 1 TD and 1 Int. Delone Carter led the Orange with 88 yards and a TD while Antwon Bailey added 35. Mike Williams led receivers with 94 yards and a TD while Alec Lemon caught five for 17. Full stats available here.
Nick Provo caught the first two passes of the game from Paulus was forced to leave the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. He did not return.
Eric Decker came advertised as the biggest threat for Minnesota and he lived up to that, finishing with 9 catches for 183 yards. Minny QB Adam Weber was 19 of 42 (!) for 248 yards, a TD and a Int.