The Orangemen give fans a second extra-stanza thrill
By Chris McManus
The fans who showed up at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, Sept. 24, got their money’s worth. It had been a while.
With a 33-30 overtime win over Toledo, the Syracuse University Orange won back-to-back home games against Division 1-A opponents for the first time in five years. The second overtime game this season featured multiple lead changes, rotating quarterbacks, wide receivers throwing passes, and a butchered replay review. It was one of the strangest and most exciting games in recent memory.
Make no mistake, any win is a big win for SU. Toledo is a good team. Twenty out of 22 starters are juniors or seniors who won nine games last season. They were 15 yards away from beating Ohio State two weeks ago. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find three Big East teams better than the Toledo Rockets. Even if it took a blown call and a goal-line stand, the Orangemen and their fans should be thrilled to be 3-1 today.
Credit the Syracuse defense, which really only had five healthy defensive backs who are ready to play at this level. They couldn’t even put an extra cornerback on the field to match up with all of the receivers. For most of the game, Toledo’s offense had its way with the SU defense, amassing 438 yards. On the last three possessions, however, Syracuse forced a punt, stood strong in the red zone, and then picked off a pass to set up the win. The Orange is young, banged up and, frankly, not very good on that side of the ball, but they play hard. They’ve found an extra gear in the fourth quarter twice now.
Credit head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett, who crafted a game plan to run the ball patiently to slow down Toledo’s fast-paced offense. They chipped away 41 times on the ground after struggling for the first three games. Then when quarterback Ryan Nassib needed a big play through the air, he gave Syracuse the lead with a cool 18-yard touchdown pass under heavy pressure.
Credit the fans at the game. SU announced 39,000-plus fans in attendance. If that’s true, I’ll sleep outside this winter. I would be surprised if there were actually 30,000. But the people who half-filled the Dome actually made a difference at the end of the game. For two of three home games, it has been really loud in the fourth quarter. It makes you wonder how a full Dome would sound.
Since the move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference is on everyone’s mind, Saturday reminded me that I can’t wait until Florida State and Miami come to the Dome. Some people only buy a ticket when Syracuse has a good team. Some people only come to night games. Some people only come to day games. History tells us that everyone wants a ticket to see them play Miami.
If we’re announcing 39,000 for Toledo, it’ll be 50,000 for “The U,” right? I think the football future is suddenly very bright with the move to the ACC. Until then, the Orange of the present has quietly turned into a gritty, fourth quarter team led by a quarterback with nine touchdowns and one interception. This team is giving us a reason to pay attention now.
Chris McManus is a 2010 graduate of Syracuse University. He is the program director at ESPN Radio 97.7 and 100.1, where he hosts Disturbing the Peace weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m.