For the second straight week, the Syracuse Orange started out hot. Two long touchdown passes from Eric Dungey to Amba Etta-Tawo had SU up 14-0 in short order. Momentum was well in their favor, and the defense was looking improved despite the injuries to the secondary and the line.
And then something familiar occurred. The momentum vanished, and systematically, the UConn Huskies found themselves back in the game. Two second quarter scores on efficient drives tied it up with about 30 seconds left. Syracuse managed to move quickly down the field to set up a field goal by Cole Murphy as time expired to regain the lead, 17-14.
The Orange offense had some drops, the play-calling stopped being as aggressive and the defense found itself getting beat much more easily by the mobile Bryant Sherriffs.
You’ve seen this story before. It happened just last week against USF, after Syracuse similarly raced out to a 17-0 lead. They would go into the half down 28-17.
It didn’t have to go this way.
As mentioned, Dungey started out very well, finding Etta-Tawo on 57-yard and 30-yard touchdown catches respectively. Those drives were aggressive, moved the ball well through the air and exploited Huskies cornerback Jamar Summers quite a bit as he showed no ability to cover the fifth-year senior. Dungey was 15-for-22 in the first half, 248 yards and two touchdowns. Etta-Tawo had seven catches for 171 yards and two scores, though there’s certainly some consternation over his two drops on the third drive of the game.
With SU trying to keep up the pace (and again, get after the struggling Summers), they went deep to Etta-Tawo on two straight plays, neither of which could be hauled in. It was a rarity for the sure-handed Orange wideout, who would get past those temporary issues and grab a big first down catch later in the second quarter.
Syracuse also reverted to the ineffective running game we saw against Louisville and Colgate. The team had just 16 rushing yards on 10 attempts.
On the UConn side, Shirreffs was streaky and under fire at first. But once he settled in, he started to exploit SU’s weak pass rush and find some running room as well. Shirreffs was 14-for-25 for 134 yards, while also running for 30 yards. Micah Newsome was UConn’s leading rusher with 46 yards on nine attempts. The Huskies’ top receiver, Noel Thomas, lived up to his billing by grabbing eight passes for 77 yards.
Grabbing the late field goal was a plus. But obviously Syracuse has a lot of adjustments to make if they want to pull off the road win here. Going back to the aggressive downfield passing from earlier in the contest could go a long way. And the defense will need to regroup at the half and figure out how to stop Shirreffs’s increasing momentum moving UConn down the field.
Try not to panic, there’s still another half of football. We just need it to be better than the first...