As evidenced in Syracuse's 52-17 win over Tulane, in which the Orange blocked a pair of punts, a field goal and recovered a fumble on punt coverage, the momentum each big play created from the game's third phase changed the game.
CuseNation.com will break each big play down with the help of pictures from our colleges at FOX Sports South, who broadcasted the game in ACC country.
The Play: SU's Darius Kelly blocks a punt and Durrell Eskridge recovers
The Playmaker: Darius Kelly
Kelly's bend enabled him minimal resistance to the punt.
How it was done: Late in the first quarter, with the Orange up 14-3 and Tulane pinned deep in their own territory and set to punt, Syracuse overloaded the right side of Tulane's punt formation. With no adjustments or audibles to counter the move, the ball was snapped and the pressure each punt team member received on the inside, where it is always the priority to block first, was too much to ignore.
On the edge, the wing had pressure both inside and out, with Kelly coming on his outside. The wing actually did a good job of punching inside before turning his attention to Kelly, but like a skilled edge passrusher, the safety not only dipped but he bent to nearly a 45-degree angle to create ideal leverage against the wing. By the time the offensive player realized it, Kelly was by him because of the move and his acceleration, before getting both hands up to block Peter Picerelli's punt, with Eskridge recovering at the Tulane 6. Two plays later SU extended the lead to 21-3 on a Clay Cleveland touchdown catch.
The Play: SU's DeVante McFarlane recovers muffed punt
The Playmaker: Ritchy Desir
Desir did just enough with his hands for SU to recover.
How it was done: Early in the second quarter, Riley Dixon got off an excellent punt of 51 yards with good hang time, forcing Tulane returner Kedrick Banks to initially stay away from the play in order to allow the Orange to down it. However, as the ball got close to him, Banks decided not to move away and created an opportunity for SU by attempting to grab it and he bobbled the ball.
Desir, who did a great job getting to the returner on time, correctly hovered near Banks to make sure if an opportunity arose, he'd take advantage. Once the ball was touched, Desir was right behind Banks and he got just enough of a push on him after he touched the ball to get it away from his grasps and McFarlane came in to recover after also doing a good job hovering around the ball on the play. Terrel Hunt scored a rushing touchdown three plays later to give SU a 28-10 lead.
The Play: SU's Eric Crume blocks a Tulane punt
The Playmaker: Eric CrumeHow it was done: This was one player making a text-book play in every sense of the execution of it. First of all, Syracuse was already up 28-10 early in the second quarter and Tulane needed points. It gained nine yards to open up the drive, and despite being on its own 27, Tulane was facing a fourth-and-1. Scott Shafer and Chuck Bullough, because of the situation and score, decided to leave the starting defense out for the ensuing punt instead of bringing in a punt return unit just in case the Green Wave had something up its sleeve.
Crume said he reffered to his hoops days to make the punt block.
It didn't, but starting interior lineman Crume decided to treat the play like a third-and-long, making a passrush move before getting a paw on the punt. He beat the guard with his hands, fighting to create leverage with his acceleration once the ball was snapped and finished the job with a "smack-and-stack" technique, which is when a defensive player hits the opponent's hands down with one hand while using the other hand to push the hands away from his body nearly simultaneously. Crume did it to perfection, enabling him to get around the blocker, and then he told reporters after the game he thought of his hoops days in trying to elevate to block the punt instead of driving to make a play closer to the point of contact.
It worked, and Crume's anticipation and basketball background helped him to get his left hand on the ball (circled on the left). The ball went out of bounds at the Tulane 17 and Syracuse extended its lead to 35-10 just four plays later.
The Play: SU's John Raymon blocks a Tulane field goal attempt
The Playmaker: John Raymon
Raymon got "skinny" at the opportune moment before the block.
The former Iowa Hawkeye first did a good job getting into the opponent upon the snap of the ball, giving him the proper depth needed into the offensive backfield to even have a shot at blocking a kick. After the power surge, Raymon needed to create a path of potential contact with the ball, and as you see on many blocks on either field goals or punts, the big man got "skinny." This means he shifted his shoulders towards each end zone instead of towards each sideline to get by the opponent after a strong drive as the ball was snapped. Simultaneously, Raymon began lifting both arms as he realized he was in the backfield, and he was able to time his skills well as he got what looked like both hands on Santos' kick to preserve three points for the defense.
While the blowout looked gaudy on paper and like SU had an easy day with the Green Wave, the four big special teams plays created not only 21 points of offense for the Orange, but preserved three from Tulane all in the first half. A 24-point swing is major in any game, and despite the offense's prowess, was the key difference in a 35-point win.
This is a tribute to Shafer, who like many defensive-minded coaches, uses defensive starters and significant role players on special teams because the third phase of the game is as important as offense and defense.
The special teams group, comprised of defensive starters and key reserves, was, well, special, on this Saturday in September and it enabled SU to get back to .500 on the season before a bye week and the start of ACC play.