At least the Orange (5-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) will be at home when they face the Eagles (7-4, 4-3) on Saturday afternoon. Putting last week’s 17-16 home loss to Pittsburgh behind might be the most difficult part of the week. A win for the taking was lost as the Syracuse offense sputtered again.
Since a 24-10 win at North Carolina State in mid-October, Syracuse has scored just 52 points in five games, going scoreless in 11 of 20 quarters.
Small wonder the Orange are ranked near the bottom nationally in several offensive categories: 100th in scoring offense (21.8 points per game), 93rd in total offense (365.7 yards per game), 122nd in yards per completion (9.84), and 103rd in first downs (198).
That’s a tough pill to swallow for first-year coach Scott Shafer, who was a quarterback in his playing days.
“We aren’t the prettiest team in the world, but we’re fighting the good fight to get better,” Shafer said. “We have to foster that frustration and turn it in to motivation to get this victory against Boston College back here in the Dome.”
Sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt continues to struggle. Since he accounted for four touchdowns (three passing and one running) in a win over Tulane on Sept. 21 in his first college start, Syracuse has registered just two touchdown passes in seven games. One of those was by wideout Jarrod West to Brisly Estime on a trick play in a 13-0 win over Wake Forest in early November.
In the 17-16 loss to Pitt, Hunt connected with Alvin Cornelius III on a pretty 42-yard TD on a third-and-15 play just past the midpoint of the third quarter. Still, Cornelius had to make a spectacular, diving fingertip grab to complete the play.
Hunt, who was off target on five long pass attempts against Wake Forest, was late with several balls against the Panthers, and it proved critical in the tight game. Safety Durell Eskridge, who lined up at wideout for one play in the final seconds of the second quarter, was ruled out of bounds at the back of the left corner of the end zone on a pass from Hunt, and the Orange had to settle for a field goal.
“The biggest thing is consistency,” Shafer said. “We have to work on our consistency in the quarterback position with Terrel and the next guys behind him. He’s thrown some good balls down there. We’re going to keep trying everything we can.”
The Orange’s kicking unit, which has been without star senior kicker Ross Krautman since the second game – he’s out for the season with a pelvic injury – also contributed to the latest loss. With the pressure squarely on his shoulders, Ryan Norton missed wide right on a field-goal attempt from 41 yards early in the fourth after making one from the same distance in the final seconds of the first half. Pitt also blocked Norton’s extra-point attempt after Syracuse drove 67 yards in four plays on its first possession of the game.
“We can be more poised out there and execute better,” senior linebacker Lewellyn Coker said. “It’s all of us – defense, offense, special teams – we all do it together.”
At least Shafer doesn’t have to worry about one thing – his players never seem to wilt, no matter the score. Despite the loss to Pitt, Eskridge and linebacker Cameron Lynch received ACC player-of-the-week honors. Lynch had 11 total tackles, including three for a loss and two sacks plus a quarterback hurry. Eskridge posted a game-high 12 tackles, including a career-best nine solos, and also forced one of two Pitt fumbles.
“I was proud of the fact that the kids kept fighting,” said Shafer, who began his Tuesday press conference by mentioning the awards. “I was disappointed that we couldn’t find a way to get the win.”