It’s easy to let expectations run rampant when facing off against MAC teams, FCS teams, and a bottom-feeding Wake Forest team. It’s easy to think the Orange would waltz its way to six wins after beating up on lesser teams and hanging around against a very talented LSU team. But then, yesterday afternoon happened. USF isn’t a bad team, but it’s also not a great team. The Bulls entered the game 1-3 on the season, and the game started exactly how most SU fans should have expected it to start. However, a costly unsportsmanlike penalty that prolonged a touchdown drive on third down could end up being the turning point of the season.
But first, let’s start with the good. Eric Dungey, in his first game back from a scary targeting hit, looked comfortable in the pocket. Simply put, the kid has talent. A true freshman will play like a true freshman, however, as the young quarterback did miss receivers over the top on some deep balls and took some cringe-worthy, hard hits on the option. But there’s something about the way the offense looks with the freshman under center. Dungey just keeps the ball moving and the offense looks as fluid as it did back in 2012. Ultimately, he finished 21-of-34 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. He completed passes to nine different receivers, led by Erv Phillips, who also returned from injury.
What USF really taught the Orange, however, is that defense will dictate the outcomes of games for SU. Before USF pulled away in the fourth quarter, the Orange was right in the game. Hurt only by big plays, the defense did a good job bending but not breaking. If not for an outrageous trick play and some timely big runs and screens from Marlon Mack, Syracuse probably would have been winning the game after Dungey led three touchdown drives in the third. But ultimately, some good play calling and one costly penalty stunted the momentum that the Orange continuously tried to build and eventually put the game out of reach.
After running screen plays nearly every play last season, one would imagine that the Orange would have been in position to stop the Bulls, who ran a ton of screens to their best player. Somehow, though, the defense was never in position to stop these screens. Coming off of a bye week, there was no excuse for the Orange to drop this game. Bowl season looks significantly bleaker now, knowing that the Orange will have to steal a game or two en route to three more wins. So what did USF teach us? Simply put, that Syracuse needs to be better.