At the late stages of the game Saturday, Syracuse had a rare opportunity to do something hardly anyone thought was possible. After a Steve Ishmael touchdown cut the LSU lead to 3 with just over 5 minutes left, The Tiger’s streak of 48 straight non-conference victories at home was in jeopardy. On the ensuing kickoff, though, Cole Murphy and SU appeared to go for an onside kick. As Dino Babers described on Monday, it was actually a “specialty kick” that Murphy just completely mishit. After recovering Murphy’s mishit, LSU then scored a touchdown minutes later to effectively ice the game. Like probably many of you, I was appalled when Cole Murphy floated that kick into the air. I didn’t see it coming at all and initially criticized the decision. In hindsight, it’s easy to say that was the reason Syracuse lost the game. But, before you jump to conclusions, let me explain why going for an onside kick in that situation was actually the right move.
First off, Syracuse got to that position in the game because Dino came out with an aggressive style from the opening kickoff. SU’s headman pulled out all the stops because he knew LSU was way more talented than his team. Just like the Virginia Tech game last year, Babers called multiple courageous trick plays throughout. He went for it consistently on fourth down and was coaching to win all night long. Calling an onside kick there would’ve been sticking with that gameplan. Why go away from the strategy that got you there? But more importantly, failing to recover what we all thought was an onside kick really didn’t hurt the Orange that much anyways.
Whether LSU scored or not, they were in a position to run down the clock with three to four first downs regardless of starting field position. SU only had two timeouts left with roughly 5:30 remaining in the game. So given the play clock and the high percentage of time LSU was going to run the ball, the Orange had to stop the Tigers quicker if they wanted to get the ball back with enough time left regardless. LSU could’ve started that final drive from their own five yard line and it wouldn’t have mattered. They got enough first downs to put the game in hand. Knowing all this, Babers should’ve tried to give his offense a chance to win the game right then and there. Especially given the alarmingly high potential that Cole Murphy could’ve kicked it out of bounds and spotted LSU the ball just 9 yards further away from where the “onside” recovery left them anyway.
Finally, if Syracuse recovered an onside kick in that situation, I fully believe the Orange win the game or at the very least force overtime. SU’s offense was riding high and LSU’s D was gassed. Babers bunch would’ve only needed basically one first down to get themselves in field goal range and a couple more to win the game with a touchdown. If Dungey and company are put in that situation 10 times they probably win that game or take the lead maybe 7 or 8 times. I’d say risking losing a maximum of 20 yards for those odds is worth it any day. Especially given LSU’s starting point didn’t matter all that much.
Dino came in with a strategy on Saturday night and it was the only strategy that was going to give Syracuse a chance to make history. He made plenty of gutsy calls all night that paid off. So, just because we saw what happened when the pseudo onside kick didn’t go SU’s way doesn’t mean it cost Syracuse the upset. A true onside kick could’ve actually been the reason SU shocked the world and made history.