In a game that featured nine turnovers, two overtimes and a pair of blocked field goals to go along with identically inconsistent offenses, it was a fumble by Syracuse's most reliable player that ended the game. Antwon Bailey fumbled in the second overtime after a Rutgers field goal, and the defense recovered to end the game and propel the Scarlet Knights to a 19-16 win.
"I thought my knee was down, but at the end of the day, I need to hold onto the ball." Bailey – who was accompanied by his entire offensive line – admitted after the game. "That's all on me."
Bailey fumbled on the first play of the game more than four hours earlier, but the defense would get the ball right back for the Orange. Linebacker Dyshawn Davis blitzed untouched two plays later and put a big hit on Rutgers RB Jawan Jamison, who fumbled. Ri'Shard Anderson recovered on the run for SU, and he ran with a convoy 66 yards to the end zone to give SU the early lead. Davis had two sacks later on in arguably the team's most impressive defensive effort of 2011
"We wanted to make a statement and I think we did that," Davis said.
Rutgers responded with a solid 31-yard return from Jeremy Deering, who approached mid-field. After a false start penalty, the Scarlet Knights gashed the Orange on a 25-yard catch-and-run by fullback Joe Martinek – who broke two tackles along the way. The drive stalled soon after, and San San Te hit the left upright on a long 51-yard field goal attempt.
Both defenses dominated the rest of the first quarter, but Rutgers mounted a solid drive towards the end of the period behind the services of top-notch wideout Mohamed Sanu. He snagged his first catch of the afternoon an a key third down, and he made a one-handed grab two plays later to move RU into field goal position. Te then missed another attempt, this time from 47 yards out.
The Rutgers offense showed a bit more promise on its next possession, but a botched snap resulted in a turnover and a short field for Syracuse. On the very next play though, the Orange tried to set up a screen pass, but quarterback Ryan Nassib's pass was intercepted by defensive lineman Justin Francis – who leaped to snag the ball at its highest point.
On the ensuing drive, Scarlet Knight quarterback Chas Dodd methodically moved the ball down the field despite facing a variety of pressure from SU blitzes. Dodd completed four passes on the drive for 35 yards, and the effort was aided by a personal foul penalty on the Orange. Sanu was targeted by Dodd in the end zone on third-down, but two defenders were in the area on the tail-end of a wheel route to force an incompletion. Te finally made good on an attempt, connecting from 27 yards out.
Nassib came out throwing on the next chance he got, showing patience in waiting for WR Alec Lemon to cross the field on a 29-yard hookup for the team's biggest play of the half. Nassib scrambled for 5 yards two plays later, but Van Chew could not hold onto what would have been a first-down catch on the next play.
Rutgers made another push, but again lost yardage towards the end of the effort before punting. Syracuse sat on the ball for the final 44 seconds, content with a 7-3 halftime lead.
'Cuse comes out hot
After forcing a three-and-out, the SU offense came out firing on its first possession of the second half. Nassib connected with TE Nick Provo for 23 yards on the first play of the drive. Bailey rushed for 11 yards to pick up another first down soon after, and Nassib took to the air again. He connected with Jarrod West on a short gain, but was struck in the head by Brandon Jones after the throw – resulting in a roughing the passer penalty. Bailey went over the left tackle for a 36-yard run on the next play, aided by solid down-field blocking by Chew. Bailey punched it in from 3 yards out on the ensuing play to give Syracuse a 13-3 lead. Ross Krautman then had the extra-point blocked after a questionable snap and hold.
With the crowd at its back, the Orange defense continued to place Dodd under duress, and they forced an errant third-down throw that was intercepted by a diving Phillip Thomas at the Rutgers 31. The RU defense responded and sacked Nassib on third down, and Krautman shanked the ensuing field goal attempt left.
Dodd was replaced by Gary Nova for a long, penalty-aided possession -- ended by another big time defensive play. Mikhail Marinovich got to Nova for the sack, and he was able to jar the ball loose on the way to the ground. After a pair of scrambles, Marquise Spruill ended up with the ball at the Rutgers 11 yard-line.
Rutgers responds again
The Rutgers defense then came up with another clutch play, capitalizing on a tipped-pass. David Rowe intercepted Nassib's pass in the end zone and he took it 27 yards to give the Scarlet Knights new life. However, the ensuing drive amassed just 22 yards before RU had to punt.
The Orange opened up the final quarter with another three-and-out, and Rutgers responded with an opportunistic drive. Nova took shots down the field more times than not, and it yielded a pass-interference call as well as a 37-yard connection to Mark Harrison to set up a 33-yard field goal from Te to narrow the margin to 13-6.
Nassib was forced into a third-and-long throw on the next possession, and he found an opportunistic Dorian Graham for a 30-yard catch-and-run that he nearly stretched into a touchdown. After Jerome Smith got into the act and helped to slow the pace of the game, Nassib was again sacked and the drive stalled. Krautman had another kick blocked, and Marcus Cooper returned it for what appeared to be the game-tying score. A flag was thrown on the play for unnecessary roughness on Rutgers, so they began at the SU 46.
SU held its ground initially on the crucial drive, which began with under seven minutes remaining, but Nova connected with Quron Pratt on a fourth-and-long to keep the drive alive. Jamison carried the ball on the next three plays to get the ball to the 3-yard line, and Nova found Sanu alone in the back of the end zone with just over two minutes remaining. Te's game-tying extra-point was good.
"I was just trying to stay calm with a calm mind, play with poise and just do what I was coached to do," Sanu said.
More late-game drama for Cardiac ‘Cuse
Syracuse made a push to set up for the game-winning field goal, but Nassib's fourth-down pass was intercepted by Steve Beauharnais – who was injured and notched two sacks prior – and he returned it to the Orange 34 yard-line.
You can't expect to win when you have five turnovers," Nassib said. "Leaving all those points on the board is just unacceptable."
A quick pass to Sanu shortly after set up a potential game-winning kick for Te, but he pushed the ball left. Nassib took a knee to send the game to overtime.
Rutgers won the toss and elected to play defense first. Bailey jolted over the left side for 10 yards on the first play. SU ran the ball on three of the next four plays down to the 1-yard line, and Krautman booted through a 19-yard field goal to put the Orange up 16-13.
The Syracuse defense forced an early fourth-down on the next overtime possession, and Rutgers appeared ready to go for the win. However, they elected to kick after a delay of game penalty. Te tied the game once again, connecting from 27-yards out.
Electing to play defense in the second overtime, the SU defense induced a pair of incompletions down the field before sacking Nova on third down. Te made good on a 47-yarder to put Rutgers up 19-16.
Syracuse looked to play conservative on the potential game-winning possession, but Bailey's fumble – forced by Edmond Laryea – ended the game.
"We lost a football game, and they're a good football team," SU coach Doug Marrone said. "I told out kids that they played hard, (but) they didn't execute well."
-Syracuse again played without starting defensive players Chandler Jones and Shamarko Thomas. Reserve DB Orlando Fisher was unavailable as was RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, who had an off-the-field accident. He will be out for an extended period of time, possibly the season.
-After amassing just 88 yards of offense in the first half, SU's initial drive of the second half went for 93 yards and a score.
Nassib, who entered the game with one interception to his name, threw three picks in the loss. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes (15 of 32) for the first time since Oct. 23, 2010 against West Virginia (11-game span).
-Dodd was simply benched for Nova, he was not injured. After the game the RU coaching staff said he was "out of sync."
- The kickers (Te and Krautman) combined to make just 5 of 10 attempts, and Krautman had an extra-point blocked to go along with the regulation kick.
- The Syracuse defense held Rutgers to just 302 total yards, less than 3.3 yards per play.
-Bailey finished with 125 yards on 23 carries, good for a season-high and his third 100-yard game of the season.
-Sanu finished with seven catches for 65 yards, his lowest output of the season.