Game Day - Minute by Minute With the Orange

College football is all about ambiance; what it's like to actually be at the game. And, since only 45, 418 people were actually at the Syracuse opener, I thought I'd give the rest of you a taste. What follows is one fan/journalist's experience at the Syracuse/West Virginia game.

1:26:  The Star-Spangled Banner is playing. Man, I've missed college football. I don't know what it is, but just walking through the Quad seeing the kids playing catch with each other and smelling the burgers we all know are bad for us, but eat anyway. I love it. Anyway, enough with the Hallmark moments, let's get down to some football.

 

1:28: The new field is awesome! It actually looks like a giant bed of grass. Should definitely cut down on injuries, although I can't remember too many Syracuse players being seriously injured because of the dome carpet. Either way, The field turf looks great. The pale green grass and blue and orange end zones are sharp.  

 

1:33: The Syracuse captains walk out of the tunnel to Eminem's, "Lose Yourself". Everyone's going nuts. I'm even going nuts. This is a significant goosebump moment here. I can barely stand still.

 

1:39: Kickoff baby! Freshman Syracuse running back Kareem Jones fumbles (oh god). He picks it up and almost breaks free. I'm so juiced that I yell "RUNNN" from the back of the press box. Now, theoretically journalists are supposed to be unbiased, and definitely never cheer like a normal fan. Needless to say, everyone turns around and stares at me. I feel like I'm in the middle of one of those Snickers commercials. Need to get away? ...Yup.

 

1:44: Syracuse's offense looks horrible. Perry Patterson rolled out on third and two and got sacked. Then the Cuse got bailed out by a lucky roughing the kicker call. Offense still can't get out of its own way though. Syracuse punt.

 

1:45: Now I get a look at the defense. Should be Syracuse's strength with Robinson (a defensive minded coach) and some good athletes, probably will keep the Orange in a lot of games they shouldn't be this year. .

 

1:48: Option, fake pitch by West Virginia QB Adam Bednarik. He gains 34 yards on the play. This doesn't look good so far. I have that feeling every Cuse fan knows well. The one where I know it's too early to get down on the team, but I can almost see this game ending badly for Syracuse.  

 

1:50: Timeout. I know everybody is on the new Orange bandwagon where Athletic Director Daryl Gross is changing everything. And to a certain extent, I am on the wagon too, but these new white home jerseys are horrible. Syracuse looks like the Cleveland Browns: the team with the ugliest uniforms in the NFL. I understand they were going for the whole "remember the past, go into the future" mix with the change, but this just doesn't work.

 

1:55: FUMBLE! 5:39 first quarter. Syracuse cornerback Tanard Jackson recovers. I know this is totally cliché, but I'm saying it anyway. I really feel like one play can alter the course of a season, or at the very least, a game. Maybe this is it. Syracuse was looking at a dead offense and a defense that couldn't stop WVU, and now they have the ball with good field position and momentum.

 

1:58: Forget what I just said, all the momentum in the world isn't going to help Syracuse if the offense keeps shooting itself in the foot. The Orange already has a false start, an illegal substitution, and a personal foul on offense. The first quarter isn't even over yet! Does anyone else think somewhere out there former offensive coordinator George DeLeone is laughing uncontrollably? Syracuse Punts again.

 

2:02: The defense stuffs West Virginia on third down. Robinson blitzed two linebackers and forced the quarterback into a quick decision. Love the call. So that's what an attacking defense is. I always thought it was just something all coaches say to get the media and fans off their backs.

 

2:07:  Syracuse punts again. The defense can't keep bailing out the Orange. They've been on the field the whole game, eventually they're going to start to tire. It's not like Syracuse has to score, it just needs to get a few first downs.

 

2:09: West Virginia fumbles. Syracuse recovers. The crowd is insane right now. The Carrier Dome is funny that way. There never seems to be middle ground. Either the crowd is 45,000 plus screaming their heads off, or it's 36,000 people talking to each other about gas prices and their kids little league team instead of watching the game. Today, though, is definitely the first.

 

2:12: illegal substitution and a 15-yard facemask. It's first and 30 … give me a break. Now I'm positive George DeLeone is laughing. Drive stalled again.

 

2:16: First quarter over. 0-0. Both offenses are playing like crap. Syracuse can't move the ball and West Virginia can't hang on to it. If either was even decent in the first quarter, the game would be a blowout.

 

2:18: Cuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim is in the press box, and amazingly he has the exact same expression on his face that he has every basketball game. Everybody in Syracuse should know what I'm talking about. It's the semi-upset, semi-happy face. The guy is like the Mona Lisa of college basketball. I didn't know he looked like this all the time though… A part of me really wants to look at his wedding pictures and see how far this constant expression really goes. 

 

2:23: Timeout. 14:11 left to go in the half. After a good punt return and a couple runs by Damien Rhodes, Syracuse has a chance to score. It's first and goal from the eight. In the meantime there is a "throw the ball through the hole" contest going on down on the field. I have absolutely nothing but my own experience to back me up on this, but it always seems like they pick the worst athletes for these things. It's always some college student who throws like a girl, and some girl who…well… throws like a girl.

 

            2:26: Touchdown! 7-0 Syracuse. Damien Rhodes and the offensive line just ran over West Virginia. Syracuse looks awesome in a power formation. I'm convinced Rhodes runs much better when he has a lead blocker.

 

            Boeheim expression check: Yup...still there..

 

            2:30: Big third down for West Virginia. The Mountaineers just gave up a score and if Syracuse stuffs them here, the Cuse could start rolling...Tipped ball…punt. Things are looking good.

 

            2:34: I'm talking to my buddy Jay in the press box, and out of the corner of my eye I see the pass. Interception by Patterson returned for a touchdown! You can feel the whole dome collectively shake their heads. This wasn't just an interception, this was bad. I could have made this pick easily, and I'm nowhere near a division-one athlete. 7-7. 12:24 left in the half.

 

            2:38: Cuse stalls again. A short run, followed by two straight bail out passes to the flat for no gain. Patterson is obviously rattled. He's trying not to make a mistake.

 

            2:41: Big hit by cornerback Steve Gregory. He banged himself up on the play, but has looked awesome so far. Moving him to receiver last year was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen in college football.

 

(Interviewing him was always great too because he publicly supported the coaches decision, but you could obviously tell he had no idea why they would make him a receiver. Glad to see him on defense where he belongs.)

 

            2:42: On fourth and one, West Virginia's quarterback pooch punts. That was great. I don't think I've ever actually seen a pooch punt. I thought it was just something they showed on ESPN Classic. The play works too, Syracuse gets pinned, but a penalty is called and a real punt happens this time.

 

            2:53: Another stalled Cuse drive and West Virginia gets the ball back. They fumble again! That's the third turnover of the half for the Mountaineers. I can't figure out which way I want to look at it. Should I be upset that Syracuse isn't up by at least two touchdowns with all the turnovers? Or should I be happy that the Orange is still in the game? I'll leave it up to you.

 

            2:56: I was right. Patterson is flustered. He hasn't thrown a descent pass since before the interception. Every throw is too hard and too low. He's trying to avoid another pick. To make it worse he just fumbled. Damien Rhodes recovers. Yet another punt. Are you seeing a pattern yet?

 

            2:58: Uh oh. West Virginia completes a 39 yard pass into Syracuse Territory. Less than two minutes left in the half.

 

            3:00: Syracuse holds West Virginia on third down. It's fourth and three on the Syracuse 30 yard line. West Virginia takes a timeout to make the decision. I'd go for it. Most of the time when a team is between the 30 and 40 yard line with less than four yards to go for a first down, I think they should go for it. I think it's the Madden video game mentality I have. That's just me though, and it's also probably the reason I'm a journalist instead of a coach.

 

            3:02: WVU thinks like I do. They go for it… First down, eight yards on a QB keeper. 

 

            3:05: Third and ten…Syracuse Blitzes again. Stuffs the drive. I love the blitz on third down. Make the quarterback rush his progression. Bravo Greg, bravo. Now we have a 47 yard field goal attempt by a freshman kicker in a hostile environment. I give him about eight to one odds.

 

            3:08:  No Good! Wide right. Syracuse escapes the half with a 7-7 tie. The Orange is extremely lucky to be tied right now, this could have been an ugly first half.

 

            Halftime: Press boxes are great places during halftime. Everyone kind of mingles and networks with each other. Me, I call my dad. This guy has been watching Syracuse Football since the Archbold Stadium days. He knows what he's talking about.

 

            My father's breakdown: "Why don't we keep playing power football like we did on the touchdown drive? Patterson looks like crap. Let Damien Rhodes, your senior, carry you."

 

            I have to agree with the old guy, Syracuse should start pounding the ball. The offense has to try something different. It can play much worse than the 48 yards of total offense it put up in the first half.

 

            Boeheim Watch: He actually cracked a smile, I'm shocked. But then again it was during a moment honoring him for getting into the basketball hall of fame. So, if there was ever a time…

 

3:38: First possession for West Virginia. Syracuse defensive back Tanard Jackson intercepts a pass. He and Safety Anthony Smith are playing out of their minds. These guys are almost single handedly keeping Syracuse in the game.

 

3:40: Syracuse calls two straight power running plays that result in a first down. My father is a football genius.

 

3:42: Timeout. I just got a soda next to Jim Boeheim. His look has returned to its normal expression. Thank god, I was worried for a minute there.

 

3:45: Syracuse punts again! This has happened so many times I've copied and pasted that sentence on my computer to save time. That says it all.

 

3:50: West Virginia is rolling down the field, but the Cuse defense comes up big in the red zone. WVU settles for a 33 yard field goal. 10-7 West Virginia. The defense can't keep this going too much longer. You can only bail your offense out for so long.

 

4:02: After one completed pass, Patterson sputters again and Syracuse Punts. Can anyone else hear the "put in Joe Fields" chants coming?

 

4:09: One minute left in the third quarter. Anthony Smith gets called for roughing the kicker on fourth and seven; definitely an acting job by the West Virginia punter. The crowd is furious. I feel like I'm at an Italian soccer game. But, seriously, has a home crowd ever thought a roughing the kicker call wasn't a bad one? The Refs bail out Syracuse, it was only running into the kicker. West Virginia punts.

 

            4:13: Third quarter over. West Virginia is up 10-7. I don't think Syracuse can win the game without a turnover in West Virginia territory. The Orange hasn't put together a drive all day and I can't see them doing it now.

 

            4:16: Patterson just pitched the ball ten yards behind him to nobody. He recovers his own fumble for a ten yard loss. As bad as Patterson is playing, it seems like Robinson is going to stick with him for the game. I like the move. If Robinson puts in Fields two things happen: 1) you now have a two-headed monster at quarterback. Syracuse fans should know that's no good. And, 2) Whoever does get the starting spot will be looking over his shoulder for the whole year knowing he is one bad game away from being benched. Neither of those is any good.

 

            4:22: After a short punt and a few good plays West Virginia is looking at first and goal. This is the part where the nail hits the coffin.

 

            4:23: FUUMMMMMBBLEEE! I can't get over it, WVU is giving Syracuse every chance in the world to win this game. That's five turnovers and the Orange are still down by three points. I still can't see Syracuse winning this game. The team can't move the ball. They haven't sustained a drive the entire game.

 

            4:27: A predictable interception by Patterson. If he were a race horse, he would have been put down by now.

 

            4:32: Fourth down pooch punt by West Virginia. Syracuse is pinned back at their own ten. I think I underestimated the pooch punt. I don't know why teams don't use it more. It doesn't allow a return, and if the coverage looks favorable, you can check out of it and throw the ball.

 

            Boeheim Watch: He's laughing hysterically and telling inappropriate jokes to half the press box. Just kidding. Making sure you were paying attention. He's still sitting there with the look, although he has put his hand to the side of his face for support.

 

            4:37: Patterson sacked in the end zone for a safety. 12-7 West Virginia. This is one of the worst performances I have ever seen by a quarterback in division one football. There is no other way to describe it. With the exception of throwing more interceptions he couldn't be playing worse.

 

            4:49: West Virginia settles for a field goal with 3:26 to go in the game. 15-7 WVU. It's been over for a while.

           

            Because the game has gotten predictable and almost boring, I find myself looking around the stadium for something interesting. What I come across is the Tully's Dance Team in front of the corner of the end zone. These girls are the closest to risky that the university can get without breaking the politically correct line. The cheerleaders themselves aren't what entertains me most though. It's the people in the stands in front of them.. All the guys are pretending to watch the game while secretly sneaking in a glance of the girls. And the wives and girlfriends are all staring down their significant others to make sure their eyes are on the right thing. It's such an awkward situation for everyone, even the cheerleaders, because they can see all what's happening. Yet another perk of actually being at the game.

 

            4:55: There's a little over two minutes left and Syracuse faces fourth and 13. They're punting. First time all day I've disagreed with a coaching decision by Greg Robinson. I understand that the offense has completely stunk, buy you gotta go for it here. Even if you get the ball back you have less than 50 seconds left to score with an offense that can't move the ball.

 

            5:00 Greg's plan works. West Virginia punts and Syracuse has 57 seconds to drive 75 yards with no timeouts and a QB whose only touchdown was to the wrong team. But hey, I'm still a fan. I'm going to stay until I know for sure the game is over. Secretly I'm hoping I'm wrong about all this. I really am.

 

            5:05: Unfortunately I'm not wrong. Game over. West Virginia takes it 15-7. The crowd is booing. That's just ridiculous if you ask me. How can you boo your team after a hard fought loss?

 

            Overall Breakdown:

Syracuse's problem wasn't that the team didn't play hard, which is why I can't understand the crowd booing. The Orange's problem was it couldn't execute on offense. Now I know it's a little unfair to put it all on one player, and usually I don't, but Perry Patterson couldn't have looked worse today.

 

The good news: The offense isn't as bad as it played. It's difficult to win when you shoot yourselves in the foot with constant penalties and a few bad decisions.

 

The bad news: The defense isn't as good as it looked. West Virginia played very poorly on offense. If they don't have those turnovers, this game is probably a 28-7 blowout.  

 

Syracuse and Perry Patterson should recover against Buffalo next week. And if not…well…we always have Jim Boeheim's facial expressions to look forward to.


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