While it no doubt isn’t what the guys in the Syracuse University football team’s locker room want to hear, today proved that once in awhile, there is such a thing as a moral victory when it comes to the sport of football. Scott Shafer talked in his post game press conference about how he didn’t want to hear about how the team had chances, and played a better team tough, but he can’t be surprised by such storylines. The fact of the matter is, this was a game that, by all accounts, Syracuse had no business sticking around in. Yet that’s exactly what happened. This was one hell of a moral victory.
I’m going to come right out and say it: I predicted a 45-13 loss for the Orange leading up to this game. And honestly, I don’t think you could blame me, really. Syracuse was hosting the No. 8-ranked team in the nation, featuring a guy who just kinda messed around and racked up well over 200 rushing yards last year. The Orange were down to a former fifth string, walk-on QB and had one of the team’s most dynamic offensive players, Erv Philips, still hanging around on the sideline due to injury.
Needless to say, this was not a game that set up well for the Orange.
But you know what? This turned into a vastly more competitive game than anyone could have predicted. The Orange came out firing on defense, and while it took awhile for the offense to start making plays, eventually the Zack Mahoney-led squad started putting points on the board. The Orange trailed 7-3 at halftime, thanks in large part to a missed field goal by Cole Murphy, and a broken play that Leonard Fournette managed to turn into a 48 yard gain, followed in short order by about a 14 yard touchdown run to give the Tigers their only points of the opening half.
This was a hell of an effort by Syracuse, make no mistake. Ron Thompson led a swarming Syracuse defense that kept the Tigers in check for a good portion of the game, and the Tigers simply used a couple home run plays (including one on special teams) to open things up. But even with Fournette running wild, and a punt return being taken for a touchdown, Syracuse was still down just seven points at one point during the fourth quarter.
That’s kind of astonishing, considering how dead in the water everyone – myself included – pegged this Syracuse team against an athletically superior LSU.
No, the run game never really got on track. Mahoney led a relatively paltry ground attack with 40 yards on six carries, bolstered by a couple late keepers on option looks. George Morris ran hard, gaining 35 yards on seven carries. Overall, the Orange gained 127 yards on 31 rushes. That’s a pretty respectable number at the end of the day, but obviously pales in comparison to LSU’s 268 yards (including 244 from Fournette) on 42 rushes.
Still, it can’t be said enough: this was an extremely wounded Syracuse team. A kid who never could have possibly expected being in position to start at QB for Syracuse, let alone making his first start against the No. 8-ranked team in the nation, tossed three second half touchdowns and finished the game connecting on 16-of-38 passes for 154 yards, throwing one (deflected) pick. Other than the dismal completion percentage, I think we all would have happily taken that stat line from a walk-on QB before kickoff.
It was a heck of an effort, and should instill a lot of confidence in both the team and the coaches, and absolutely should earn some respect and admiration from the fans. Syracuse is still 3-1, with a bye coming up that’ll help the team get back to 100% health. Dungey and Philips should be back by the time Syracuse heads south to play at South Florida, and with USF, Virginia, and Pitt next on the docket following next week’s bye, there’s a very real possibility this squad could potentially head into its matchup with Florida State with a record of 6-1.
Look, obviously it would have been amazing to knock of LSU. But at the end of the day, we all knew the chances were remote. Yet, the team somehow, miraculously, came tantalizingly close to putting LSU’s undefeated (to date) season in serious jeopardy. That’s not nothing. And since LSU could very well be the best team on Syracuse’s schedule this year – and absolutely features the single best player the Orange will have to try to stop – today’s result bodes pretty well for the team’s prospects going forward.
I’m incredibly encouraged by today’s result. I’ve never been so satisfied with a loss. I don’t generally believe in moral victories, but, screw it: that game was the very definition of a moral victory.
Let’s go Orange.