Syracuse overcame a substantial deficit to force Northwestern to have to put together a late comeback in order to gain the reins of the game back. The Wildcats were successful after the Orange failed to make enough stops, including the most important stop at the end of the game to provide aid to an offense that came on in the closing stretch of the match.
Here is a look back at the game:
The First Quarter:
The defense. Syracuse began the game with some of their biggest defensive plays of the game. Linebacker Marquis Spruill got to Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter for the first sack of the season for Syracuse. Free safety Durell Eskridge chipped in on a good initial showing by the defense when he got to Northwestern running back Venric Mark for a loss of one yard. Then, linebacker Dyshawn Davis got his tackle for a loss when he reached running back Tyler Scott to take five yards away from the Wildcat offense, leading to a punt. The first drive, outside of a 21-yard passing completion allowed by the defense, showed a unit that could possibly contain a running quarterback, despite having trouble last season against just that.
After halting the offense on the first drive, Syracuse struggled with Northwestern on the first play of the second drive, allowing a 19-yard gain on the ground to Colter. Wide receiver Christian Jones got his first and second catch back-to-back before defensive ends Brandon Sharpe and Markus Pierce-Brewster stopped running back Treyvon Green for no gain. Syracuse got its second sack in this second offensive drive of Northwestern, courtesy of linebackers Cameron Lynch and Dan Vaughn. Despite another big gain by Colter, once again the defense forced a punt.
The defense's third time around involved more déjà vu. Colter had another big play: an 18-yard completion, this time to wide receiver Tony Jones. The defense had more stops: Spruill and Pierce-Brewster stopped running back Mike Trumpy after a two-yard rush and then strong safety Shamarko Thomas stopped Colter after two yards. The third drive of Northwestern's result? Another punt.
The special teams did not give the defense a fourth drive, when they allowed running back Venric Mark an 82-yard return for the Wildcats' first touchdown, and first lead, of the game: 7-6.
The offense. Syracuse ‘s first offensive play of the season was a pass over the middle to tight end Beckett Wales from quarterback Ryan Nassib, good for a first down. After that were three straight runs, two by running back Jerome Smith and the latter by Nassib. Though Syracuse got to the seven-yard line, the Orange offense settled for a field goal to attain the first points of the game, 3-0, with 10:47 remaining.
After four straight completions by Nassib on the second drive, he followed with three straight incompletions. The best passing play was a 34-yard gain off of an ad-libbed play by Nassib , where he sent a short pass over the defense to a moving running back Jerome Smith. Despite this play and the offensive productivity, the three incompletions kept Syracuse out of the endzone when they were in the red zone once again. But on the second drive, they did score, off of Ross Krautman's second field goal of the game.
The third drive by the Orange offense was plagued by two false starts, both by new starter, right tackle Lou Alexander.
The Second Quarter:
The offense. Continuing from the first quarter drive, Nassib went six-for-seven through the air, including fullback/tight end Carl Cutler's first catch of the game after spending much of his career on the sideline. The two biggest runs were from Nassib on a keeper for 11 yards and running back Prince-Tyson Gulley for 14 yards. Gulley showed great speed on this run, busting through the middle for the Orange's first touchdown of the game. Syracuse took the lead at this time (10:58), 13-7. The score was achieved despite Syracuse having three total penalties, all for false starts, on the drive.
On the second drive, Nassib displayed trust in receivers when wide receiver Marcus Sales failed to catch his first opportunity, but gathered his second. The longest play was on the ground by Smith, who went 21 yards after breaking through the middle. However, the drive was negated by Nassib's pass went off the hands of his receiver and into the air, only to be intercepted by Northwestern's C.C. Ariguzo.
The offense stalled on the third drive, with a three-and-out. After a punt by Jonathan Fisher, the special teams allowed a 52-yard return to the Syracuse 28-yard line.
Nassib began the fourth drive with two completions, but Wales did not hold onto his, fumbling the ball, which was recovered by Davion Fleming of the Wildcats. After the fumble by Wales on the offense's fourth drive, Syracuse's defense forced their own fumble by Colter which was recovered by Pierce-Brewster.
But, the offense sputtered again for yet another three-and-out.
The defense. The penalties did not only come on the offensive side for the Orange. Syracuse went offsides in Northwestern's first drive of the second quarter. On this drive, Northwestern lived by the run and eventually saw the drive come to an end by the run, with Mark and Colter attempting to move the ball. The Wildcats lost possession after Trumpy failed to get two yards on fourth down thanks to a joint tackle by Goggins and Spruill.
Off of the Ariguzo interception, Syracuse's defense gave up a touchdown on the first play when Colter found Mark for a 21-yard reception and run to swing the game back to Northwestern, 14-13.
The defense began its freefall of the second quarter with Colter having three straight completions, the last a 14-yard touchdown reception by Christian Jones, giving Northwestern a 21-13 lead.
Before the half, Mark and Colter ran at will on Syracuse, but an illegal block by Northwestern aided the Orange defense to go into halftime without another score against them.
The Third Quarter:
The offense. First sighting of running back Ashton Broyld, catching a pass for five yards. The rest of the drive began on the ground and ended there, as Smith lost yardage and eventually the ball, fumbling and recovered by Ariguzo of Northwestern. This was the second fumble of the game by the Orange's offense. The offense did not give the defense a chance, allowing a 33-yard return for a touchdown to put the Wildcats ahead 28-13.
On the second drive, Nassib went 3-for-4 through the air, connecting with Broyld on back-to-back passes. A pass interference penalty on Northwestern helped move the drive along, but a fumble by wide receiver Christopher Clark, a false start, and a missed field goal attempt from 44 yards away by Krautman plagued the drive.
Nassib went 7-for-9 on the following drive. Nassib took advantage with a quick release to the middle of the field for Cutler twice in a row, both for 11 yard gains. Another pass interference penalty on the Wildcats moved the Orange offense along. Nassib's seventh completion was to Sales for an Orange touchdown.
The Wildcats' third pass interference penalty started the drive. Nassib finished it with three straight completions, the last a 50-yard completion on a deep route by wide receiver Jeremiah Kobena.
The defense. The Orange began their first defensive drive by giving up three straight completions and then allowing both Mark and Colter to run at will until Colter eventually got in from one yard out to make it 35-13 Northwestern.
On their second test against the Wildcats' offense, Syracuse caused a three-and-out by an illegal block in the back on special teams sent the team backward to their own nine-yard line.
The Fourth Quarter:
The offense. Nassib went eight-for-10 in Syracuse's first offensive drive of the quarter. The offense gave up more yards to penalties with a substitution infraction. However, the offense overcame the penalty thanks to Nassib's arm, with the final pass going to Kobena for his second touchdown of the game. The Orange failed to complete their two-point conversion.
Nassib continued his impressive day, going four-for-five and taking to the ground to gain nine yards on back-to-back carries. Clark, targeted throughout his first career game for the Orange, got enough separation and caught Nassib's final pass of the drive for a score. Another pass interference penalty gave Syracuse a second attempt at their two-point conversion, which Gulley ran in.
With 44 seconds to go, Nassib only went deep once and Syracuse failed to move the ball outside of Gulley's efforts off of a reception.
The defense. Trevor Siemian came in for Colter at quarterback, going three-for-four through the air. Syracuse aided Northwestern with a substitution infraction penalty and an offsides penalty. However, Spruill and Sharpe combined to send the Wildcats back four yards on a rush attempt and Northwestern punted.
On their second try against Northwestern in the quarter, the defense forced another three-and-out.
With the lead back on their side, Syracuse needed a final stand by the defense. They did not get it. To start the drive, the defense went offsides. The unit then allowed three straight completions by Siemian after Goggins sacked him for a loss of one yard. Vaughn temporary stunted the Northwestern offense when he sacked Siemian for a loss of nine. But then the defense allowed Siemian to get all nine of those yards back on a rush attempt before completing a pass in the endzone to Fields to put the Wildcats ahead with 44 seconds remaining.
The negatives. Syracuse had some nice stops, but they failed to contain Northwestern due to inconsistency with tackling and pressure.
Despite getting to the quarterback, the 40 yards the Orange allowed Colter on the ground helped keep drives going, take time away from them, and led to scores.
Receivers, as well as Sales and Clark performed down the stretch, have to work on their hands.
Poor tackling by the defense on too many plays that were not offset by what they did right.
Special teams failed to be much of a deterrent, allowing a runback for a touchdown and excellent field position to Northwestern on more than one occasion.
Missed opportunities. Syracuse got inside the redzone on both of their initial offensive drives and ended those drives with field goals.
The positives. The defense had five sacks, taking away a total of 27 yards from the Wildcats.
Strong safety Shamarko Thomas' hard-hitting ability proved helpful in preventing a completion. Though there were not enough of these plays, Thomas did show improvement with making something out of his speed and power.
Smith and Gulley kept drives alive on the ground and through the air.
Sales and Clark improved as the game progressed, making big plays instead of continuing their previous mistakes from earlier in the game.
The left side of the offensive line looked strong, with left tackle Sean Hickey protecting Nassib.
Nassib is surveying the field and placing the ball in good spots for his receivers to make plays. He can move the chains going quick, taking his time, and rolling out.
Nassib's total completions, 44, were more than any other quarterback's performance ever for Syracuse, showing how vital he was to Syracuse's comeback. Despite the final drive, Nassib looked strong and did not seem to be flustered at all.