Syracuse lost a tough game on Saturday to Maryland, largely because of their own doing. The numbers look solid when you check out the box score. Nearly 600-yards of total offense. Nearly 400-yards rushing. Winning the time of possession battle. Forcing more punts than they attempted. Nine more first downs.
Yet the Orange did not just lose to the Terps, they were seemingly out of it for nearly the entire second half. Maryland nursed a 31-13 lead throughout most of the final two periods.
The reasons for the score differential, despite Syracuse dominating statistically, were self-inflicted wounds. Penalties. Turnovers. Lack of execution in key moments.
“Usually you rush 280-yards more then you have a shot to win,” head coach Scott Shafer said. “But I look at those fleeting opportunities and you’ve got to come down with the ball. I never felt like we gave ourselves a push in the momentum to get ourselves on track.”
It started on the very first possession of the game. Syracuse was moving the ball well. They were in the Terrapins’ red zone. On third and eight, Hunt throws to an open Steve Ishmael inside the ten and he drops the ball. It was an accurate throw that would have been a first down. Syracuse settles for a field goal. That resulted in the loss of four points, the difference between a touchdown (and extra point) and a field goal.
Early in the second quarter, Syracuse had cut the lead to 14-13. Some momentum was on their side. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown looks to make a big play and throws long to Marcus Leak. Brandon Reddish is in perfect position with blanket coverage.
The ball is thrown to the inside, and Reddish is right there in front of Leak. As Reddish goes up to make the interception, Leak rips the ball out of his hands. The result is a 47-yard completion instead of a turnover. Once again the chance for momentum is taken away from Syracuse. The possession ended up with a field goal for Maryland. Three more points lost for Syracuse as the result of a mistake.
”“Disappointed in the loss, again it comes down to an opportunity for an interception and they come down with it for a big play,” Shafer said. “Another opportunity for an interception and it hits us in the gut and we drop it. There’s two chances for momentum pushes and we didn’t work it.”
The next time Syracuse has the ball, Terrel Hunt throws inaccurately to Brisly Estime on third down forcing a Riley Dixon punt. That punt was blocked due to poor protection up front. Maryland takes over deep in Syracuse territory and scores a touchdown on that possession. Syracuse loses seven points from that mistake.
Even with all the mistakes to that point, Syracuse only trailed by 11. The Orange took the ball after Maryland’s touchdown following the blocked punt and were moving. A 51-yard pass to Jarrod West set the Orange up in the Terps’ red zone late in the second quarter.
Then the game turning play happened. Hunt throws on an option route to Adrian Flemming. Flemming read zone coverage and took his route up the field to a post. Hunt read man coverage, incorrectly, and threw to a spot anticipating a quick out from Flemming. The result was the ball being thrown to an area where the only play was Maryland cornerback William Likely.
Likely intercepted the pass and returned it 88-yards for a touchdown. Instead of, at minimum, a field goal, Syracuse gave seven points to their opponent. A net result of 10 lost points.
Syracuse responded with an impressive drive to try to get a score before halftime. Syracuse had first and goal at the Maryland eight yard line. Then they were called for an illegal shift. Then holding. Two plays later, holding again.
Instead of a potential touchdown, Syracuse had to settle for a short field goal attempt. Ryan Norton promptly missed that to make matters worse. Syracuse lost a minimum of three points on that mistake.
”If you ask me the most disappointing thing, I think it would be that we had holding, holding, chop, holding, one was a defensive holding down the field, holding and then coach Shafer being mad because we didn’t get that one call,” Shafer said. “But I’m sure he made the right call, but we’ll have to look at it.”
In the second half, Syracuse continued to make mistakes despite a defensive effort that gave the Orange offense a chance to get them back into the game. A false start on 4th and 1 inside the Maryland 30 cost them a chance at points. A dropped interception by Eric Crume prevented a momentum shift opportunity.
More penalties stalled drives early. Hunt fumbled mid-way through the fourth quarter for good measure. In a game the Orange lost by 14, they gave up 27-points minimum due to self-inflicted mistakes.
It was disappointing to see Syracuse shoot itself in the foot so often. Especially during a game where Syracuse, at times, looked good offensively. They will have to be much more disciplined next week if they are to hang with Notre Dame.
“We’re just going to have to bounce back,” Shafer said. “We’re playing one of the best teams in the country in Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium. They’ve had a week off to prepare for us and it’ll be a great opportunity for our kids to really bounce back and go in there with some fire power and see who we are and continue to try and grow each week.
“We have to do a better job of controlling the things that we can control. That would be penalties, pre-snap penalties and discipline with our hand placement, and trying to continue to work to get those turnovers. We’ve been good not giving them up until today and obviously those were costly.”