The last time Syracuse football started a season 4-0, The Silence of the Lambs was one of the most popular movies in the country, Nirvana was taking over the music scene and George H. W. Bush was in the president of the United States. Now with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Drake topping the charts and Avengers: Infinity War still leaving Marvel fans torn, the Orange are once again having that 4-0 feeling after a commanding, albeit odd, 51-21 win over UConn (1-3).
Syracuse was in control from the very get-go, jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the game’s first 12 minutes on the power of a trio of Eric Dungey touchdowns (two running, one passing), including local product (Baldwinsville) Gabe Horan’s first career TD.
Everything was going the Orange’s way and it looked they could do no wrong until UConn QB David Pindell gashed the defense for a 75-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. That turned TD was the beginning of a very odd stretch in the late first and most of the second quarter where the Huskies outscored SU 14-3 to cut the Orange lead to 10.
SU wound up scoring another TD to take a 17-point lead into the halftime locker room, but it felt like they should have led by so much more. After three Sterling Hofrichter punts and a Jarveon Howard fumble inside UConn’s five-yard line, SU was left wanting more in the second half and Sean Riley and the SU pass rush gave them exactly that.
After an ugly three-and-out on offense to start the half, SU’s defense stepped up to force a third down and a UConn punt deep in its own territory. Huskies punter Luke Magliozzi got a good kick away to the SU 31-yard line, but then Riley turned on the jets.
The junior took a nice, career-long 69-yard return to the house for the first returning TD of his career. And although the return was impressive, it was only one highlight in an outstanding afternoon for the Los Angeles native. Riley finished the day with 279 all-purpose yards, catching six passes for 120 yards and another TD along the way. He was undoubtedly the individual star of the day.
But if Riley was the individual star, then the SU defensive line was the star group of the afternoon. Just a week after harassing Deondre Francois and Florida State for four sacks and five QB hurries, the pass rush did even more damage to David Pindell and UConn. Alton Robinson (3) and Kendall Coleman (1) combined for four of SU’s season-high six sacks (Antwan Cordy and Kielan Whitner added the other two) on the way to dominating yet another offensive line. Those six sacks are the most for a Syracuse team since 2009. Robinson’s three were a career-high and the most for an individual player since James Wyche had three against none other than UConn in 2004.
After that it was pretty smooth sailing for SU as it outscored the Huskies 20-7 in the second half to cruise to another easy win.
Eric Dungey had another stellar day, finishing 21-27 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He also tacked on another 84 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, surpassing Jim Brown (yes, that Jim Brown) for the seventh-most rushing TDs (24) in school history.
Moe Neal also had a quietly impressive outing, carrying the ball 13 times for 116 yards (8.9 ypc) and a score. That performance marks the first time Neal has eclipsed the century mark in his three-year career.
Oh, yeah, and shocker here, Andre Cisco picked off another pass late in the fourth quarter, giving him four interceptions on the season. With the pick, the true freshman currently leads the nation in interceptions.
Despite the odd stretch in the second and third quarters and the defense getting beat for big plays a few times, this game felt very much like another day at the office for SU. The Orange have still yet to face a true challenge this season. That will change next week when they head to Death Valley to take on fellow undefeated #3 Clemson.
But for now, Dino Babers and company will relish in the program’s best start in more than two decades, while also understanding that it’s just the beginning.
“We’re going to take that 4-0 check and we’re not going to cash it,” Babers said. “We’re going to put it in the bank and we’ve got to start again. If we keep having that attitude, when it’s all said and done, maybe we’ll have enough saved up in the piggy bank to go buy something at the end of the season that we would like.”
On a final side note, Babers also revealed in his post-game press conference that starting TE Ravian Pierce will be out for what he calls “a while” as he deals with an undisclosed upper-body injury.