Both offenses had little issue getting down the field on their first attempts, but neither found the end zone. Syracuse got the first crack at it, and a pair of Ryan Nassib passes to Nick Provo and Van Chew combined for 31 yards to help SU move in scoring range. A questionable non-call on what loked like pass interference and a dropped pass later, and Ross Krautman was onfor a 40-yard try in which he converted.
The Bearcats offense responded with a methodical 16-play drive led by Munchie Legaux, in for Zach Collaros (ankle), though the look of the Cincinnati attack remained the same. Plenty of read-option and play-action led to chunks of yardage, but the Orange held on defense in the red zone. Kicker Tony Miliano came on for a 33-yard try, but he pushed it right.
The teams traded punts three times, with minimal success on the ground. Isaiah Pead got things going for the UC early in the second quarter with a 30-yard punt return. Starting at the 50, Jordan Luallen got his chance to run the Bearcat offense, and he ran it well. The bigger quarterback gained 31 yards on four carries and completed a pair of passes for 10 yards. He appeared to have the edge on a touchdown run, but stumbled just before the goal line. Two false start penalties made it third and goal, and Legaux was back in. He tossed a fade to D.J. Woods, but it was just a bit too far for his over-stretched hands.
Miliano converted the ensuing 27-yard try to tie the game up with just over nine minutes to play in the half.
Syracuse responded on its next chance, as offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett elected to revert back to the running game with Bailey and Jerome Smith. Dorian Graham got the push started with an 18-yard reverse, and Smith combined with Bailey for 46 more yards. Once in the red zone, Nassib had a pair of passes tipped and the effort was thwarted. Krautman missed the 37-yard try, but he was run into. 5 yards closer, he made good on the attempt to put SU back on top.
Pead continued to make big plays on the next drive. He accounted for 41 yards as both a runner and receiver while Woods streaked toward the sidelines wide open soon after for a 29-yard catch and run. He hauled in a bubble screen two plays earlier for 7 yards. On third and goal from the 2, Legaux faked the ball to Pead and found an open Travis Kelce for a diving score.
The Orange would attempt a last-minute drive, but Nassib was strip-sacked to slow the processes. SU ran the ball from there and punted near the ends of the half.