Daryl Gross had his eyes set on a 4-0 start. It would have propelled the Syracuse Orange to national relevance and, perhaps, its first Top 25 ranking since 2001. Instead, the Orange wasted that opportunity by wasting one chance after the next against the Maryland Terrapins.
The Orange (2-1) lost, 34-20, in an underwhelming performance on Saturday.
"We didn't play smart," Scott Shafer said. "We did not take care of the all mighty football. And when you don't do that, you lose the game."
Terrel Hunt's two turnovers - a red zone interception and a late fumble - turned into ten points for the Terps. The Orange took one step forward last week against Central Michigan, but took a step back in its return to the Carrier Dome. In many ways, that level of inconsistency played out during the game. Despite the score, Syracuse actually outgained Maryland in yardage by a total of 589 to 369. Just as Syracuse started to play well, some costly error - a penalty, a dropped interception or an errant pass - would negate any momentum.
"We had three big opportunities to turn the game around and we didn't make those plays so it could be a different story," Cam Lynch said. "Hats off to their team. They had a few explosive plays on offense and defense."
Hunt's scrambling ability was, once again, Syracuse's most effective and most consistent weapon on offense. His 156 yards on the ground not only led Syracuse, but was more than the entire Maryland offense. But he wasn't able to pair that bulldozing rushing with a precise passing attack as he did the week before. Hunt regressed to a 50 percent completion percentage (14-of-28), tied for the second worst of his career. With Hunt only able to complete half of his passes, the Orange couldn't consistently move the chains. He played anxious in the pocket, overthrew his receivers on several plays and had miscommunication problems with them on others.
One particular pass to Devante McFarlane in the second quarter was a glaring example. Hunt misfired on an easy pass to McFarlane a few yards away and the running back wasn't able to make a shoestring catch.
"His placement of the football wasn't as good as it was last week," Shafer said. "I thought Terrel had a couple of hitches. I thought he was 12 to 18 inches off on a lot of those throws, whereas last week he was dead on."
The final blow came with about three minutes left in the second quarter. The Orange moved into the red zone at the 19-yard line, hoping to score a touchdown to move within four points. Two plays before, Hunt connected with Jarrod West for a 51-yard gain with a beautifully timed touch pass. But this time, Hunt locked on to his receiver the entire play. Syracuse wideout Adrian Flemming ran a slant-and-go pattern, but Hunt expected him to run a shorter route.
"I turned early on getting the play from the sideline so I didn't get the whole play," Hunt said. "It was just miscommunication between me and the sideline and we'll get it fixed."
Maryland corner William Likely read the play and jumped the route. He intercepted the pass and ran 88 yards, almost untouched, to the opposite end zone. That put Syracuse in a 31-13 hole. The Terrapins had command of the game for the rest of the way.
Moving forward, Shafer knows Syracuse needs to significantly improve before heading to New Jersey for next week's primetime showdown.
"We play one of the best teams in America in Notre Dame coming up at MetLife," he said.
"We just got to bounce back."