Wow. After a rough first half that saw the offense continually stalling and the secondary getting burnt, the Syracuse Orange buckled down in the second half and secured an impressive 30-17 victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. It was not perfect, nor was it always pretty. But based on a strong effort put in by the offense, especially in the third and fourth quarters, you have to like what you saw out there. SU now starts 2-0 for the second straight year, though you probably feel a whole lot better about that fact this year vs. 2014.
Early in this one, the Orange seemed to be able to move the ball well against the Wake Forest front, but still drives stalled to force Cole Murphy field goals instead of touchdowns. Those pesky red zone issues are not gone, despite what we'd hoped. Syracuse settled for field goals all three times it was anywhere near the Deacs' 20-yard line.
But while that would spell trouble in most games, the Orange were able to execute on big plays throughout the afternoon and find themselves in the end zone three separate times. The only TD of the first half came on a Donnie Simmons interception return. The second half, however, was the Eric Dungey show -- which is where the majority of this recap shifts its focus. A shaky first 30 minutes had some wondering about the freshman quarterback's long-term viability. Then the second half arrived. He settled down. And started taking advantage of the copious weapons at his disposal. The centerpiece, of course, was the gorgeous 89-yard connection with Brisly Estime. After that, he was cooking, and tossed a 53-yard touchdown to Steve Ishmael as well.
Take a look at the splits for Dungey, and you'll see a tale of two different offenses. Just four-for-seven for 35 yards in the first half, with thoughts of him as a game manager creeping into the conversation. In the second? He's four-for-six, but racks up 186 yards and two scores. He'd team with Devante McFarlane to lead the rushing attack too. While no one player stood out on the ground, the team combined for 149 yards there and looked competent moving the ball more often than not.
Defensively, the team spent the second and third quarters with a shaky grasp on stopping both the run and the pass, letting Wake's John Wolford carve them up with ease. In the first, we saw pressure and some direct hits to Wolford, but it still came without coverage in the secondary. By the fourth quarter, though, it finally arrived and as a result, the Deacons struggled to move the ball by air at all and felt the pressure of a growing deficit finally cripple them under the Orange blitz. While the linebackers have always been the centerpieces of this aggressive scheme, it was really the front-four and the secondary that got after the QB most -- especially late. Just something to keep an eye out for (and also something that shouldn't take away from the great job by the linebackers either).
While we can and should celebrate the team getting to 2-0 (and now, 1-0 in the ACC), there are definitely some negatives that explain how Syracuse was out-gained for most of the contest (Wake still ended up with 49 more yards of offense). As always, the aggressive attack can leave us vulnerable to big plays. But outside of the norm, the blitz disrupted our ability to stop the run for long stretches of the game. Things only settled down later when the Deacons were forced to pass. The secondary finally showing up (still... that's a HUGE problem area, gang) certainly helped matters as well toward SU shutting out Wake for the entire second half.
We'll get to more on the offensive AND defensive play-calling later in the week, but for now, enjoy this win and the promise it brings. Dungey's confidence is infectious and, you could tell by the fourth quarter, no one could stop him if they wanted to. The swagger was real and you saw it rub off immediately on both the offense and defense, and then the (meager) Carrier Dome crowd. The way he flipped the ball to the referee after a first down run. The way he casually tossed a first down pass like he'd been doing it at the collegiate level for four years. The way he fakes better than anyone suiting up for Syracuse in recent memory. You HAVE TO love what he's brought to the table so far.
Thanks for hanging out with us today and for supporting a football team that desperately needs as much backing as it can get. Next week's another big game as SU looks to start 3-0 for the first time in a very long while.