EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Syracuse could not take advantage of three forced turnovers as they fell to Penn State 23-17 at MetLife Stadium in the season opener. Drew Allen got the start for the Orange, but had a tough day completing just 16 of his 37 pass attempts for only 189 yards, including two interceptions.
"It was a great feeling to look up and see my family in the stands," Allen said. "But ultimately we wanted to get the win. Luckily, it's game one."
The first half was rather quiet offensively for both teams as each looked to ease their inexperienced quarterbacks into action. Both defenses stepped up to make yards come at a premium. The Nittany Lions took a 6-3 lead into halftime behind two Sam Ficken field goals.
The Syracuse defense looked strong in the first half, getting pressure off the blitz and limiting the Nittany Lions on third down. Zack Zwinak was the only threat for Penn State in the first half, rushing for 52 of his 64 yards on the day.
For the Orange, Allen struggled to get the ball down field, but Jerome Smith and Ashton Broyld had some big plays to give Syracuse scoring opportunities. Despite venturing into Penn State territory four times, they were only able to come up with three points.
The lone Syracuse score was set up by an Ashton Broyld 27-yard reception. He finished the day with four catches for 46-yards.
After a Jeremi Wilkes interception appeared to give the Orange momentum, Smith fumbled to give it right back to Penn State. The ensuing drive led to a field goal to give tie the game. Syracuse would never regain the lead.
The second half started with a bang with two scores in the first four minutes of the third quarter. Top receiving threat Allen Robinson returned for Penn State after being suspended for the first half to catch two passes on their opening drive, including a 51-yard touchdown to put the Nittany Lions up 13-3.
But Syracuse responded with some fireworks of their own as Drew Allen his Jeremiah Kobena for a 55-yard gain. Jerome Smith ran it in from 10-yards out on the next play to bring the Orange within three once again.
A key moment in the game came late in the third quarter. Brandon Reddish forced a fumble after Allen Robinson caught a pass deep in Syracuse territory. Reddish scooped up the fumble and returned it all the way to the Penn State 27-yard line.
The Orange would fail to convert on that opportunity, as Ross Krautman missed a 43-yarder which would have tied the game. Two Penn State drives later, Hackenberg hit Eugene Lewis for a 54-yard touchdown to give the Nittany Lions a two score advantage.
With the Orange down 23-10 and less than eight minutes to play, Syracuse got the big play the needed as Robert Welsh picked off a pass and returned it to the Penn State one yard line. Jerome Smith scored his second touchdown on the next play to pull Syracuse within 23-17. Smith finished with 75 rushing yards on 16-attempts with two touchdowns.
"Our defense played a tough-ass football game," head coach Scott Shafer said. "They got four turnovers (was actually three). Third down defense was one out of 15 (was 1-16). I was really pleased with the way Coach (Chuck) Bullough had those kids playing."
After two straight stops by the Orange defense, Drew Allen took the ball with a chance to lead his team to victory in the final two minutes of his first collegiate start.
"(I told them) we're going to win," Allen said. "There was no doubt in my mind. We practiced that situation so many times in practice."
But Allen could not fulfill those thoughts as Syracuse failed to get that final score to put them over the hump. Allen threw his second interception with a 1:53 left which clinched the victory for Penn State.
"I'm pleased with him," head coach Scott Shafer said of his quarterback. "He's a winner. I like the way he competes."
Ultimately, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg got the better of the quarterback matchup, going 21-33 for 278-yards. He hit on two touchdowns to go along with two picks.
Syracuse lost the total yards battle 296 to 189 as both teams failed to hit 100-yards on the ground (57 for Penn State vs 71 for Syracuse).
The Orange now look ahead to a week two matchup at Northwestern. They know they must clean up their mistakes in order to avoid an 0-2 start.
"We'll be alright," Jerome Smith said. "We've got a little bit to fix. Some things to take care of. Turnovers. Turnovers killed us."
Syracuse looks to rebound against the Wildcats at 6pm eastern.