After giving up 56 points to Georgia Tech, the Syracuse defensive players were embarrassed and angry. They had two weeks to channel their frustration and prepare for Wake Forest. It showed on Saturday.
They gave up zero points.
"I was really proud of that fact that our players just stuck their chests out and went to work after that difficult loss," coach Scott Shafer said after the game.
The Syracuse Orange (4-4, 2-2 ACC) shut out the Wake Forest Deamon Deacons (4-5, 2-4 ACC), 13-0 in an ugly, defensive, mistake-filled game.
Syracuse got a passing touchdown from a wide receiver and a rushing touchdown from a quarterback. It was a very strange day in the Carrier Dome, but Syracuse got what it needed – a hard fought win to get back to .500 and keep reasonable postseason hopes alive.
Terrel Hunt didn't play a great game by any stretch, but was better than he's been over the past few weeks. The Syracuse defense dominated and Hunt made enough plays to put Syracuse in a position to win. Hunt finished the game, 18-30 with a 144 yards passing. He rushed ten times for 46 yards and a TD.
"We're just hungrier," Hunt said. "Coming off a bad loss like we did, we flush it down the toilet. We forget about it and no one speaks on it."
This week, Donovan McNabb predicted that Hunt could develop into a Tajh Boyd-level player in a few years. For most of the game, that looked far from the truth.
It wasn't until a few minutes into the second quarter that the Orange offense had any sense of rhythm. Hunt opened the drive with a 15 yard touch pass to tight end Josh Parris. He had two quick completions to Brisly Estime and one to Christopher Clark. Syracuse had a first down at the Wake 43 and Hunt was playing like he did early in the season: confident, making quick decisions and spreading the ball around the field.
But Wake defensive end Desmond Floyd batted a pass down and then sacked Hunt on consecutive plays. The drive was over.
Hunt was just off the mark on a few deep throws to start the game. At 4:26 in the second quarter, that all changed. Hunt connected with Jarrod West for a 43 yard gain, just over the reach of a Deamon Deacon defender. But a few plays later, Syracuse committed two costly penalties. SU had to punt. The Orange went into the locker room at halftime with the score 0-0.
"Being a defensive guy, I found that game extremely sexy in the first half," Shafer joked.
At the half, Syracuse honored McNabb and raised his No. 5 jersey to the rafters. After the break, Hunt showed some flashes of McNabb himself. On the first drive of the third quarter, Hunt went 3-3 with 36 yards. He deked a defender at the Wake Forest six yard line and scrambled in for for a touchdown.
Midway in the third quarter, Wake Forest QB Tanner Price was pressured in the pocket by a few Syracuse defenders. Backup defensive end Isaiah Johnson tipped Price's pass and his eyes lit up.
"I just dove on it," Johnson said. "I didn't think I was going to catch it. So I was a little stunned when I caught it."
Syracuse took over with a 7-0 lead at the Wake 25. West took a pitch, ran to the right and looked to the end zone to make a pass.
"All week long, we tried three different kids on that play and it was interception, interception, duck," Shafer said.
But this time, West found a wide open Brisly Estime for a 25 yard touchdown. Syracuse went up 13-0.
"They got it right by game time," Shafer said. "I don't know if I would have had the intestinal fortitude to make that call, but (offensive coordinator George) McDonald did."
"He was wide open," West said. "Anybody could have thrown it."
It's easy to criticize the offenses in a low-scoring game, but the Orange defense deserves a ton of credit. Price, the Wake QB, was under pressure all day. Syracuse had two sacks, but the team would have had a few more if it wasn't for Price's scrambling ability.
SU's defense limited Price to 173 passing yards and a completion percentage of 41 percent.
The Syracuse defense caught a huge break in the first quarter. Wake's leading receiver, Michael Campanaro left the game with a shoulder injury. Campanaro has 803 receiving yards and six touchdowns this season.
Syracuse's travels to Maryland to face the 5-3 Terrapins next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Maryland is on a two game losing streak, including a 34-10 road loss to Wake Forest.
Here's some other facts and figures:
- In the first quarter, Syracuse had 25 penalty yards and three passing yards.
- Syracuse ran the ball 45 times. Wake Forest only had 18 carries.
- Prince-Tyson Gulley had a game-high 94 yards on 13 carries, including a 67 yard run.
- Coming into the game, the Syracuse defense held opponents to 31.4 percent on third down, 13th in the FBS. On Saturday, Wake Forest went 4-18 (22 percent).
- Ashton Broyld came into the game as Syracuse's leading receiver. However, Broyld did not catch a pass against Wake Forest.
- Syracuse senior center Macky MacPherson started his 33rd game for the Orange. That moves him into a three-way tie for 6th place for most career starts by ACC offensive linemen.
- Including Syracuse's 54-0 victory over Tulane, the Orange now have two home shutouts this season.