Things started so well...
After one quarter, the Syracuse Orange led the USF Bulls by a score of 17-0. The SU offense was firing on all cylinders early, with the run game and Dontae Strickland leading the way and setting up the downfield passing game. But the Bulls cut down on offensive mistakes in the second quarter, the Syracuse defense resumed giving up enormous chunks of yardage at a clip, and the offense sputtered to a halt.
The tale of the half? USF being able to score quickly and effectively, as our own Ari Gilberg points out:
USF's four touchdown drives have all been under two minutes – 1:04, 1:37, 0:55 and 1:32. Syracuse's defense is getting torched. #USFvsCUSE— Ari Gilberg (@arigilberg) September 17, 2016
It didn’t have to be this way.
The Eric Dungey passes right on the money en route to gorgeous touchdowns by Brisly Estime and Ervin Philips? Perfect. The smart running by Strickland (24 carries for 108 yards) to give the team its first balanced attack of the year? Also great.
But settling for a field goal late in the first quarter would prove to be the last consistent offensive drive of the half. The team’s questionable decisions to put Dungey in position to take more hits -- just as he did against Louisville -- was certainly a factor too. That dread you had every time Dungey took off with the football last year is back. And it also includes ill-advised trick plays too, with him taking a huge shot as a wide receiver in the waning moments of the second quarter. The Syracuse QB is 17-of-26 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, which all sounds pretty good. But there was an obvious tail-off toward the end of the half as USF kept getting hits on him and reading the Orange offense better.
On the other end, the injury-depleted Syracuse defense played well to start, but largely profited off of USF mistakes (drops, mostly) to keep the Bulls shut out in the first quarter. Once Quinton Flowers and company knew what they were up against, they’ve leaned on the same few plays (just like last year) and simply carved up an overmatched defense that cannot make plays out in the open, or cover receivers downfield.
USF has 280 total yards, with the majority of those occurring in the second quarter. That trails SU’s total of 341, but for how long? The Bulls get the ball to start the second half and have scored a touchdown on each of their last four full drives (the final possession of the half aside). Their 146 yards on the ground figures to increase as Syracuse cannot defend the sweep and the Bulls have blocked well on the perimeter.
More to come. Hopefully the Orange can make some adjustments and find their way back into this one. That’s still well within reach if they can just make a stop or two to start off the half, perhaps.