It never really came. But Greg Schiano's defense and Robb Smith's special teams unit made up for it with spectacular effort and execution.
Sixth-year senior Edmond Laryea, who was in for just one play after Khaseem Greene left with a full-body cramp, forced a fumble in double overtime to end the game in spectacular fashion to seal a 19-16 victory.
"The running back was my man," Laryea said after the game. "I saw the opening that he saw and I just put my head in there. ... I just knew it was a clean fumble and recovery. There was no doubt in my mind."
Special teams, however, stole the show thanks outside linebacker Jamal Merrell.
Merrell does not have the build of a stereotypical college linebacker, but perhaps that is what makes him so unique. Merrell's wide receiver body allowed him to make the two biggest plays of the day for the Scarlet Knights.
"It was a gutsy effort," Schiano said. "We've all done better jobs coaching. It wasn't a very pretty game, but the one thing that we did was we fought. Sometimes in life, you just fight and keep fighting ... and it gives you a chance and that's what it did today."
Syracuse gave Rutgers (3-1, 1-0) plenty of gifts along the way to allow for the 10-point comeback.
With a chance to ice the game, quarterback Ryan Nassib threw a pick in the end-zone.
Safety David Rowe made the first great play at a time when the situation was do-or-die for the Scarlet Knights.
Tight coverage by Marcus Cooper led to a potential touchdown pass floating up into Rowe's grasp, to stop the Orange from taking a three-score lead.
Syracuse (3-2) gave Rutgers four free conversions on third or fourth down with penalties, including one on the game-tying drive.
Rutgers barely squeaked by offensively and did so with Gary Nova taking over to help win the game.
Starter Chas Dodd was inefficient and off his game in the first half. He completed just 45 percent of his passes and threw an ugly interception.
Off the bench, Nova led a 10-point comeback but made plenty of mistakes along the way. In all, Nova played like a freshman. He threw it well downfield, kept plays alive to move the chains and made a lot of mistakes.
Nova finished 14 of 24 passing for 122 yards and a touchdown. His biggest struggles came when facing the pressure. Trying to do too much, he drew an intentional grounding call and lost a fumble.
"I was just going to go in there and do what they told me and stay calm," Nova said.
Schiano said after the game that Dodd was not injured and that Nova simply gave Rutgers the better chance to win. When asked if Dodd is still the starting quarterback, he was noncommittal, meaning there will be some form of competition in practice.
"I don't know," Schiano said. "I have to see the tape. He made some plays. He made some things that rookie quarterbacks don't do."
Rutgers returns home next weekend to host Pittsburgh, the school that Nova planned to attend at this time last year and the school that lost five staff members to Rutgers in the last 10 months.