Here are three takeaways from Syracuse's 45-24 loss to South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Saturday:
1. Defensive issues: Where to start?
For almost everything USF's offense did on Saturday, the Orange couldn't come up with an answer. Before this game, I wrote that Syracuse's key to stopping Bulls running back Marlon Mack would be to get to him at or near the line of scrimmage. That didn't happen; SU's defensive line consistently lost the battle in the trenches. And when SU's players could get a hand or two on Mack, they still often struggled to bring him down.
The play of SU's front seven makes you question whether the Orange's run defense is as good as the numbers say. Before Saturday's game, Syracuse was ranked 17th in rushing yards allowed per game. But those numbers were at least partially misleading, because SU allowed only four yards on the ground against Rhode Island in the season-opener and has been less impressive against the run since. This is increasingly becoming an area of concern.
The secondary wasn't much better on Saturday. I didn't think South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers would be able to beat the Orange through the air. I was wrong. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns, often finding receivers that SU's secondary left wide open. Other times, he found receivers and running backs on well-executed screen plays that the Orange were never in position to stop.
2. Dungey and the offense wake up too late
Quarterback Eric Dungey and the rest of Syracuse's offense came out slow on Saturday, managing to score only three points in the first half. They picked it up in the second half, as Dungey led three touchdown drives in an eight minute span to keep the Orange hanging around.
With SU down 24-3 in the third quarter, Dungey scrambled outside of the pocket on the left to avoid pressure. He then shuffled to the right and found running back Jordan Fredericks, who juked and spun his way to a 30-yard touchdown reception, avoiding a number of USF defenders.
After Syracuse forced a fumble on USF's ensuing drive, the Orange took advantage of a short field and scored again, this time via a 7-yard option keeper by Dungey to pull SU within seven. On Syracuse's next drive, with the Orange trailing 31-17, Dungey found Steve Ishmael for a seven-yard touchdown pass.
But it would prove to be too little, too late for Syracuse. As the Bulls scored touchdowns on their next two drives, Dungey committed consecutive turnovers -- first an interception and then a lost fumble -- and the comeback attempt faltered.
3. Miscues hurt
Aside from being outplayed, the Orange also committed a number of dumb mistakes that led to their demise.
Trailing 7-3 late in the second quarter, SU was set to get the ball back after forcing USF into a fourth down. But the ensuing punt hit Syracuse's Kielan Whitner in the back and was recovered by the Bulls. In addition to preventing the Orange from trying to score points before the half, it enabled South Florida to tack on a field goal and make the score 10-3.
Later, with USF leading 31-24 in the fourth quarter, the Bulls faced a key third-and-14 from their own 14. Flowers threw a screen pass to wide receiver Ryeshene Bronson, and several Syracuse defenders had chances to bring him down before the first-down marker. None of them could, and the drive stayed alive.
Later in that drive, SU did manage to stop USF on a third-and-10 from the Orange's 34-yard line. But after the play, Whitner committed a personal foul penalty, which gave the Bulls a fresh set of downs. Two plays later, Flowers ran for a two-yard touchdown, effectively putting the game away.