The Syracuse Orange (2-2) stopped their recent two-game skid with a 31-24 win over the University of Connecticut Huskies (2-2) on Saturday. The victory was Syracuse’s first road win since beating Wake Forest back on October 18, 2014.
Here are three things we learned.
Especially Concerned With Special Teams
While speaking with the media earlier in the week, Syracuse coach Dino Babers said he wanted to make sure the Orange won the kicking game on Saturday. Instead they did the exact opposite. Field goal attempts, punts, kickoffs – nothing seemed to go right for Syracuse.
Let’s start with kicker Cole Murphy first. Murphy, who is on the Lou Groza Award watch list, entered Saturday’s game converting six of his seven field goal attempts, with the lone miss being a 55-yard attempt against Louisville.
Murphy, however, had a game to forget against UConn. The junior kicker missed two of his three field goal attempts – including a 33-yarder that was nowhere near the uprights – and had two kickoffs sail out of bounds.
Punter Sterling Hofrichter didn’t fare much better. The freshman punter continued to struggle, shanking two of his five punts and averaging just 39.4 yards.
Lastly, freshman Sean Riley looked indecisive at times fielding kicks, making poor decisions when and when not to field them – resulting in poor field position for Syracuse on multiple drives.
“Help Us Turnovers, You’re Our Only Hope,” Syracuse defense
Outside of a shockingly impressive first quarter, Syracuse’s defense once again struggled for most of the game. Prior to Saturday, UConn averaged just 20 points scored and 331 yards of total offense.
However, the Huskies were able to put up 425 yards – by far, a season-high – against Syracuse’s injury-ravaged defense and finish with 24 points.
Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs entered Saturday’s contest with just three games of 250 or more passing yards. He finished with 264. Running back Arkeel Newsome had just 130 yards on 37 attempts, averaging 3.5 yards. Against Syracuse, however Newsome rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown, on just 15 carries, averaging 5.1 yards.
The Orange defense, however, was able to make two one crucial plays when they needed to. The first came on third-and-eight, with the game tied 17-17 late in the third quarter, cornerback Cordell Hudson was able to intercept Shirreffs’ pass, after it was tipped by linebacker Zaire Franklin, and race down the sideline to return it for a touchdown.
The score made it 24-17 and gave Syracuse back the momentum they had lost after blowing a 14-point lead in the first quarter.
The next crucial defensive stand came shortly later. After UConn drove all the way to Syracuse’s eight-yard line, the Orange stopped the Huskies on three consecutive plays. Facing a 4th-and-goal on Syracuse’s two-yard line, UConn elected to go for it. Shirreffs’ attempted run, however, was stopped short and the Huskies turned the ball over on downs.
Pass, Pass and Pass Some More
Syracuse may have ran the ball 30 times with Dontae Strickland last week against USF, but clearly that was an anomaly. Discounting quarterback Eric Dungey’s scrambles, the Orange ran it just 18 times against UConn – with little-to-no success.
Strickland rushed for only 51 yards on 14 carries and Moe Neal finished with just eight yards on four carries.
With no running game, Syracuse once again turned to the air. Thanks in large part to wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo’s record-setting performance, Dungey threw for a career-high 407 yards and two touchdowns, completing 26 of 40 passes and averaging an impressive 10.2 yards-per-attempt.
The sophomore quarterback has attempted at least 40 passes in every game this season after throwing no more than 34 times in a game last year under ex-Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer.
In four games this season, Dungey has already thrown for 1,360 yards (more than he did last year) and nine touchdowns, with only three interceptions. He has also rushed for 72 yards and three more touchdowns.
What else did you learn today? Leave a comment below.