Syracuse has a long history of talented players. It includes NFL Hall of Famers and College Football Hall of Famers. It includes many other NFL all-pro players. But on Saturday, quarterback A.J. Long did something no one else in the history of the storied program had done before.
Long became the first true freshman quarterback to win his first start at Syracuse.
"In your first career start, you can get a win on the road against a great Wake Forest team," Long said. "Their defense is one of the best in the country. For us to be able to come do this today, it was a good feeling.”
The Orange offense was solid in their win, not having to do too much for the victory. They racked up 370 total yards, but largely leaned on their defense to help dominated Wake Forest in their 30-7 win.
Long, though, was very good and showed flashes of the incredible. Early in the second quarter, Long was pressured by a free rusher off the edge. He stepped up and slipped away from the attempted sack and sprinted to the outside. After getting to the sideline, he turned it up field and turned the near loss into a career long 20-yard gain.
At the end of the play, he lowered his shoulder and knocked a Wake safety backwards. He then stood up and displayed the type of self-confidence and moxy that has given the Orange a spark over the last two games.
Later in the quarter, he was pressured again. He stepped up and slipped out of the defender’s grasp, sprinting to his right. His speed allowed him to beat linebacker to the outside and he was able to get just inside the pilon for his first career rushing touchdown.
“I was looking to pass the ball to see if Ron or Kendall or JP (Josh Parris) was open and neither of them were," Long said. "Then I felt pressure and tried to get underneath it. My goal was to try to outrun the corner or the d-end or whoever it was and get to the pilon. Thankfully I got there.”
Long finished 22-32 on the afternoon, for 171-yards. He was very accurate with the ball and even had a touchdown pass called back on what may have been his best throw of the contest. He hit Ishmael on a fade in the end zone showing beautiful touch and accuracy. It was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty, called because of a pick set to allow Ishmael to get free.
"Just going out and playing football, I'm just having a blast," Long told the ACC Digital Network after the game. "It was fun to finally get your first career start and play against a great defense like Wake Forest is. At the end of the day, it's about going out there and having fun and that's what we did."
On his young career, Long has shown plenty to give Orange fans hope for the future. His confidence, playmaking ability, elusiveness, better than anticipated accuracy and skills as a runner have given the Syracuse offense a huge boost. He squares his body when making throws, keeps his eyes downfield when scrambling and goes through his reads very well.
The team clearly believes in their young signal caller’s ability to lead them. He will have a huge test next week as they hit the road again, this time to face Clemson in one of the toughest environments in college football.