The Syracuse Orange football team came into the game with a 3-1 record in the Big East Conference, as their rebirth in the midst of the season continued to move in the positive direction.
But, against Cincinnati, the defense's inability to defend well and consistently versus a dual-threat quarterback placed them back under .500 overall and down to 3-2 in the conference.
In the 1st quarter:
Syracuse's defense was put on their heals immediately after the special teams unit began the game with a blunder when kick returner Jeremiah Kobena fumbled the ball on The Opening kickoff. In turn, Cincinnati got to start from the 28-yard line of the Orange. Bearcats' quarterback Munchie Legaux was allowed the pass early, connecting with running back Ralph Abernathy, IV. Then the backfield began what would be a very fruitful outing against the Orange as running back George Winn crossed into the end zone on his third of three straight runs, giving Syracuse an early deficit at 7-0.
The defense is given a longer field to work with on Cincinnati's next drive after a Syracuse punt. Legaux decided to take to the air, completing his first roll out, but the Orange prevented his second roll out attempt, resulting in a punt by the Bearcats.
After another Syracuse punt, defensive end Markus Pierce-Brewster stripped Winn on a rushing attempt. The ruling on the field was that Winn was down, but the replay showed that Winn was in the air with a player under him when he lost the football. Nevertheless, the ruling on the field stood and Cincinnati kept possession.
Winn made the most of a second chance at the drive, getting outside on a run for a substantial gain as he continued to get the best of the Orange defense more often than not. But, Pierce-Brewster remained focused, rushing Legaux, forcing him to throw the ball out of bounds. Then, the secondary stood strong, with cornerback Ri'Shard Anderson staying in front of his receiver taking away the pass attempt, but failing to keep his hands on the ball. However, Syracuse forced a punt on the second consecutive drive.
The Orange offense tied the game at seven before the Bearcats got the ball back. But they did not have it for long, as Anderson made up for his dropped interception by getting his hands on his next opportunity to take possession. Anderson stepping in front to grab this interception led to Syracuse taking the lead, 10-7, off of a field goal by kicker Ross Krautman.
Back on defense, the Orange were aided by two penalties on the Bearcats. But then they allowed a big gain through the air, when Legaux found wide receiver Anthony McClung for the first time in the game.
The defensive unit continued an unsuccessful drive against the pass as Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce caught a pass from Legaux and eluded both free safety Durell Eskridge and linebacker Marquis Spruill for another first down.
In the 2nd Quarter:
The Bearcats took little time to continue taking advantage of the Orange defense as Winn made a smart play when he got caught up at the line, throwing to Kelce, who had plenty of spacing, going 37 yards for the touchdown that put Cincinnati back in the lead, 14-10.
On their next opportunity to stop the Bearcats, the Orange started out doing anything but that. The double-headed quarterback of Legaux and Jordan Luallen took apart the Syracuse defense. Legaux began the drive with an eight-yard run. Then Luallen gained 25 yards on the ground on three straight carries, getting a new set of downs on two of those three runs.
Once the run had well-established itself, Luallen tested the Orange through the air, and they failed, as Kelce eluded tacklers again, this time for a 14-yard gain and the team's third first down of the game.
The quarterback duo went back to the ground, with Luallen grabbing another yard before Legaux returned to go 24 yards on his first opportunity back under center.
As Syracuse braced for another redzone opportunity for Cincinnati, nose tackle Eric Crume decided enough was enough, getting his hand in to cause a fumble, which was recovered by a team effort of Crume and Spruill.
The Orange takeaway resulted in a touchdown to get the team back ahead by a field goal, 17-14.
After the defense suffered bad field position from poor special teams' tackling, defensive end Brandon Sharpe aided his unit with a sack on Legaux that resulted in a loss of six yards. However, on third down, McClung was allowed the reception, achieving a first down. The secondary looked to make up for it on the next play as cornerback Brandon Reddish took Winn down despite him having a whole to run through, giving up a mere two yards.
But Reddish could not come up with the tackle on the next rushing play as he, linebackers Siriki Diabate and Dyshawn Davis, Sharpe, and Pierce-Brewster all missed the Bearcats' Abernathy, as he gained 15 yards before being taken down by defensive tackle Deon Goggins.
On the following snap, the ball gets hit. Legaux recovered the fumble and was sacked. Then, Syracuse took Cincinnati down behind the line of scrimmage again to bring the Bearcats to 3rd and 17. The defense continued to have an answer for Legaux on this drive as Goggins stopped him on his run attempt to bring about another Cincinnati punt.
Special teams negatively affected the Syracuse defense once again as Jonathan Fisher shanked his punt attempt, handing the ball to the Bearcats on the Orange 36-yard line.
With under 15 seconds to go before the break, Anderson stopped the team after a mere yard gained from a completion by Legaux. Then, Legaux tried for the end zone on a final play, which was knocked away by Eskridge and free safety Jeremi Wilkes, keeping Syracuse in the lead at the half, 17-14.
In the 3rd Quarter:
The Orange were put on the defense to start this half, just as they were in the first half, but this time, Cincinnati was expected to have the ball, off of the kickoff.
Winn dominated the Syracuse defense early, gaining back-to-back first downs on the ground, getting Cincinnati into Orange territory.
The Bearcats then switched to the pass, with McClung attaining a first down on his 3rd and 6 reception. After the catch, Syracuse cornerback Keon Lyn was flagged with a personal foul for targeting. On the replay, Lyn looked to have led with his shoulder, but the officials decided he led with his head, adding another 15 yards to the Cincinnati catch.
Back to the ground, Winn ran twice, achieving a first down on the latter rush. Legaux stayed on the ground for a keeper which was ruled a touchdown, but was reviewed. The replay showed that the ball crossed the goal-line, but was not in the hands of Legaux at the time. The touchdown was recalled, but the officials kept the possession with the Bearcats, who went in immediately, thanks to Winn, bringing the advantage back to Cincinnati, 21-17.
The defense was aided by their offense, as Syracuse's unit scored quickly to get the lead back to the Orange, 24-21.
Syracuse struggled with Legaux in their next outing, allowing two completions on Legaux's first three attempts, which brought about a new set of downs, but another penalty on Kelce gave the Orange 15 yards back. Reddish would take all the yards gained by the Bearcats back when he got in front of a Legaux pass attempt, resulting in a punt, despite Reddish failing to keep his hands on the interception.
The defense was back on the field quickly after a fumble by the Syracuse offense. On this drive, they lined up against their third Cincinnati quarterback in Brendon Kay. Kay was allowed to get going early when Lyn gave at least two to three steps of space to wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins who caught the ball from Kay for a first down. Kay followed by running to his right and throwing horizontally to his left to Kelce, who was wide open. The lack of coverage provided Kelce and the Bearcats with an easy touchdown to regain the lead, 28-24.
On the following Syracuse punt, the special teams' unit affected the defense negatively once again, allowing a 17-yard gain that placed Cincinnati on the 47-yard line of the Orange.
Kay continues to exploit the lack of a pass defense shown from Syracuse on a nine-yard completion to Winn before the end of the quarter.
In the 4th Quarter:
With Cincinnati needing a yard for a new set of downs, Syracuse allows 18 to Winn, who got to the Orange 20-yard line. Winn equaled his output on his next run with another 18-yard gain, and another first down.
The ball remained with Winn as he continued his prowess over the Syracuse defense, crossing the goal-line to extend the Cincinnati lead to 11 at 35-24.
Special teams hurt the defense yet again when Krautman missed a 42-yard attempt, turning the ball over on downs.
The Orange continued to have no answer for Winn to start the drive, giving him another first down. But then Sharpe kept the Bearcats from crossing the first-down marker with help from teammate, defensive tackle Jay Bromley.
That answer to the Cincinnati run game went away quickly as Kay went ahead for 14 yards, but a holding penalty prevented a new set of downs, keeping the Bearcats in a third-down situation. Linebacker Cameron Lynch ended Cincinnati's drive with his sack on Kay, causing a loss of a yard and a punt.
Syracuse's offense went no where on their next drive, sending the ball back to the Bearcats. Once again, Kay got ahead on a keeper that brought a first down, but yet again the offense was called for holding, and the play was brought back. The ball was then handed to Winn who kept the drive going initially, but was later stopped by the Orange defense, who caused another punt.
After a turnover on downs for Syracuse's offense, the defense took the field for their final stance. The Orange responded better to Winn, allowing one first down on six carries, also aided by a holding penalty that negated what would have been another first down for Winn as time ran out on Syracuse.
Against the pass:The Orange defense did well against Legaux, allowing him to complete only 50% of his passes, thanks in part to the pressure they placed on him. They did not give up a single passing touchdown to him and intercepted him once.
However, when Kay came in, Syracuse's defense did not prevent any of his three passes, including a touchdown toss.
Anderson and Reddish made good reads on the ball, either obtaining or positioning themselves to obtain an interception.
Against the run:After not allowing a 100-yard rusher or a team, in general, to achieve 100 total rushing yards in a game within their first three Big East Conference games, the Orange have not been able to stop the run as of late.
Playing against a dual-threat quarterback has created a significant decrease in Syracuse's capability of stopping a team's rushing attack. After allowing not one, but two 100-yard rushers in the first half alone and 369 total rushing yards versus South Florida, the Orange allotted Cincinnati with a 100-yard rusher of their own and 263 total yards on the ground.
Winn had the best game of his career against the Orange in this game, gaining 165 rushing yards to go with three touchdowns on the ground and one through the air.