Experts expected a blowout. Fans expected a blowout. Vegas expected a blowout. And as the final score of 45-14 indicates, the Syracuse Orange (4-7, 2-5 in ACC) – not surprisingly – were blown out by the Florida State Seminoles (8-3, 5-2 in ACC) in the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
Florida State star running back Dalvin Cook led the charge for the Seminoles, finishing the game with 225 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Cook helped Florida State race out to an early 21-0 lead, gaining 104 yards on just 13 carries in the first half, including a 25-yard touchdown scamper.
Syracuse coach Dino Babers appeared to be in disbelief of Cook’s ability when addressing the media after the game.
“The tailback (Dalvin Cook), he’s an ‘OMG’ guy,” Babers said.
Although Cook also lost two fumbles, he still ran through Syracuse’s injury-ravaged defense with relative ease for most of the afternoon, passing Warrick Dunn to become Florida State’s all-time leading rusher in the process.
Linebacker Zaire Franklin, who left the game in the second quarter with an apparent right leg injury, said he thought Syracuse had a good game plan to limit Cook heading into the contest, but lacked the proper execution.
“We knew he was very, very dangerous when he got to the perimeter and uses his speed,” Franklin said. “So instead of allowing him to get lateral as much as he likes to, we tried to force him in-between the tackles. Obviously, it didn’t go too well today.”
Babers said after the game Franklin’s injury was minor and “he’ll be ready to go next week” against Pittsburgh.
While Syracuse’s defense had its moments, including causing four turnovers and holding the Seminoles to just five-of-10 on third down, the Orange were ultimately overpowered by the clearly more talented Florida State offense.
The Seminoles finished the game with only four more plays than Syracuse, 76 to 72, but recorded 421 more total yards than the Orange, 654 to 233.
Cook led the large disparity in the rushing attack, with Florida State finished the game with 334 rushing yards to just 37 for the Orange. Seminoles quarterback Deshone Francois attempted only 28 passes, but still threw for 315 yards to lead the way for a 320-196 Florida State advantage in the passing game.
As the numbers, and “eye-test”, clearly indicate, for the third straight game, Syracuse’s offense appeared lost and lifeless without starting quarterback Eric Dungey, who has been out for the past two games with an unspecified injury he suffered against Clemson on Nov. 4.
Backup quarterback Zack Mahoney started in Dungey’s place, and was largely ineffective right from the start, forcing Syracuse into a deep hole the Orange had no chance to climb out of.
Just how pathetic was the Orange’s offense on Saturday? Syracuse’s first eight drives to start the game ended in the following manner: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, interception, punt.
Mahoney’s only real saving grace on the evening was a 46-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Amba Etta-Tawo in the closing seconds of the first half, to make it 21-7 and pull Syracuse to within two scores. Up to the point, Mahoney had completed just nine-of-19 passes for 92 yards and had thrown two ugly interceptions.
Mahoney, himself, even appeared to admit as such.
“(Throwing the Hail Mary) was fun. Those are some of the things you dream about,” Mahoney said. “Unfortunately, like Coach Babers said, that was a time when we were occasionally great, but not consistently good. So that was good to get a little momentum going into halftime, but we unfortunately didn’t capitalize.”
Syracuse was outscored 24-7 in the second half, with Florida State quickly increasing their lead to 35-7 behind three Dalvin Cook touchdowns in the third quarter.
Although Mahoney looked better after the break, finishing the game 16-of-36 passing for 196 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, the former walk-on quarterback did most of his “damage” with the end result already in the books.
Wide receiver Erv Phillips led Syracuse with seven receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown. Brisly Estime, who also nearly returned a punt for a touchdown, recorded six receptions for 46 yards. And Etta-Tawo finished with two receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown, including his impressive Hail Mary grab right before halftime.
While Mahoney’s poor performance is in large part a result of his poor accuracy and rests on the junior quarterback’s shoulders, he also received no help from a makeshift offensive line that allowed eight sacks and gave Mahoney little time to stay in the pocket.
Babers, for his part, stood by his quarterback, saying Mahoney is performing well and will most likely remain Syracuse’s starting in the Orange’s season finale at Pittsburgh, if Dungey can’t go.
“I still think that Zack is doing a nice job,” Babers said. “It’s a different game when a quarterback is getting hit a lot. They’re not supposed to get hit a lot. I think Zack is doing a nice job for us, we have to find a way to do more to help him.”