About midway through the second quarter, it appeared as though the Syracuse Orange were in for a repeat performance. Down to 17-10 to MAC foe Central Michigan, the outlook was fairly bleak when combined with what happened last week.
At the lowest moment, sophomore wide receiver Sean Riley stepped up. His 64-yard kick return set up an 18-yard touchdown pass to Dontae Strickland. The next drive, his 44-yard outstretched reception led to the offense’s second touchdown and a lead that would not be relinquished.
Dino Babers, Syracuse football head coach, credited Riley in his ability to spur the offense.
“We have a lot of confidence in Sean (Riley) that he was going to come back and do the right things,” said Babers. “[He] was a huge spark. You never know whose day it’s going to be and that’s what traditionally, from an offensive standpoint, we’re used to.”
Riley finished with 247 all-purpose yards on the day. He also racked off a 41-yard rush in the third quarter that led to a Cole Murphy Field goal.
“I just had to do my job: catch the ball and get open,” he said. “I just got to play fast and make plays.”
One for the player speak, the point still remains. As long as Riley is making plays, the offense will continue to produce explosive plays.
See what Eric Dungey & Sean Riley had to say about the win over CMU— Syracuse Football (@CuseFootball) September 17, 2017
When the pocket collapsed, as it did many times, Eric Dungey displayed his athleticism and talent. He moved outside the hashes and made multiple plays with either his arm or his legs. His 109 rushing yards (including a 74-yard run), 279 passing yards, and three total scores allowed the Orange offense to dominate the third quarter.
“He didn’t throw for a great percentage,” Babers said.” There were some plays where he flat saved us. He played smart, quarterback football.”
Even so, the defense’s performance from the mid second quarter on allowed the offense to control the flow of the game and dominate the game. They only allowed 105 rushing yards on 34 carries, an average of under three per; along with four forced turnovers and an interception touchdown by Evan Foster.
Babers was especially impressed by the defense’s mental fortitude and determination.
“I think they [the defense] was ready to play,” he said. “What about the defensive effort? Seeing defense like that again in the dome. Seeing defensive guys knock guys around. Being physical and being fair about it.”
In particular, the front seven was especially dominant. Led by Zaire Franklin, Parris Bennett, and Kendall Coleman (25 combined tackles), their stops on big moments shifted the momentum in Syracuse’s favor.
Dungey too recognized the importance of the front seven’s performance.
“Defense set the tempo for us,” he said. “They really did a great job.”
Hopefully, the Orange can continue this play next week against ranked opponent LSU.