In the middle of the third quarter, Syracuse Orange football seemed to be in control of their non-conference game against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Leading 16-9 with under five minutes to go in that period, the momentum appeared to be heavily favored towards the Orange.
It appeared as though the Orange were dominating on both sides of the ball. They had overcome their first half struggles on offense and had driven into the red zone five times (only converting it into 16 points). The Blue Raiders were struggling to get first downs, and the Orange were dominating time of possession.
Yet, after two long touchdown passes, the Blue Raiders seized control. Even still, Syracuse head football coach, Dino Babers, did not credit this lack of consistency to fatigue.
“I don’t think they (Syracuse defensive players) were tired,” Babers said. “[Our defense] was out their sixty plays; their defense was out there 90 plays.”
It was the missed opportunities that will continue to sting with the Orange for the next week. They could not convert three early turnovers into more than three points (with the only score coming from field position starting inside the five).
Senior quarterback Eric Dungey credit the opposing defense for their defensive schematics.
“Middle Tennessee did a great job, coming with pressure, disguising their looks, with a lot of different stuff, props to them… it made it difficult.”
Dungey finished with 180 yards passing, 53 yards rushing, and one score on the ground. He was also sacked five times and completed 26 of 42 passes. He also left for one drive in the third quarter after going down with a knee injury. He returned shortly after.
Specifically, after Jonathan Thomas left the game early in the third quarter, the defense began to falter. In the time he played, he accumulated six tackles, two for a loss, and an interception that put the Orange in the red zone.
Making good on the extensive coverage before kickoff, former Syracuse coach-turned-MTSU-defensive-coordinator Scott Shafer, defeated his former employer. Senior linebacker Parris Bennett stated that he was at least a little distracted by his former coach’s presence.
“I thought about [Shafer] more than I would like to,” he said. “It is something that a lot of us haven’t experienced before; playing against an old coach. It was definitely just a different experience.”
Thomas also backed up his teammate’s idea, saying that there was an extra incentive behind playing Blue Raider defensive coordinator.
“Obviously, we wanted to prove to Coach Shafer that we were a good recruiting class that he brought in,” he said. “It was very disappointing to lose against him [Shafer}.”
Dino Babers understands that while today’s performance was disappointing, the Orange have to be candid with themselves.
The head coach said, “The first thing we have to do is go back and reexamine ourselves tomorrow. It has to be an honest evaluation… These young men; you tell them the truth, and sometimes they believe you, sometimes they don’t.”
After the disappointing loss today, they face the Central Michigan Chippewas next Saturday at 3:30 p.m ET.