Author: Michael, Matt
Date published: November 10, 2010
With a chance to go bowling for the first time in six years, the Syracuse University football team tossed a gutter ball. With a win over the Louisville Cardinals on Nov. 6, the Orangemen would have become eligible for its first bowl game since SU played in the Champs Sports Bowl in 2004. But they failed to hold a 17-14 halftime lead and lost to the Cardinals 28-20 before 40,735 fans, the largest Carrier Dome crowd since Doug Marrone's first game as SU's coach on Sept. 5, 2009.
"Like I just told the players, and told them at the beginning of the year, this is going to be a difficult season, we're going to have to fight and scratch," Marrone said after the game. "Nothing comes easy in this game."
No one expected Saturday's game to be easy, but the Orange did seem to have all of the arrows pointing in its direction. SU returned home after winning back-to-back road games against then-No. 20 West Virginia and two-time defending Big East Conference champion Cincinnati. The Cardinals were without injured quarterback Adam Froman and tailback Bilal Powell, who had combined for more than 235 passing and rushing yards per game this season. Louisville had also dropped its previous 11 Big East road games.
And, most importantly, the Orange was playing for win No. 7, which would have assured them a winning season and a bowl berth. SU still has three games remaining: at Rutgers Saturday, Nov. 13, and home games against Connecticut Nov. 20 and Boston College Nov. 27.
"It is very disappointing, but the season isn't over and we have a couple more games to go out and reach our goal," SU senior linebacker Derrell Smith said. "We are going to go back to the drawing board and watch the film and fix our previous mistakes."
After falling behind 14-7 in the first quarter Saturday, SU rallied for 10 second-quarter points and held the Cardinals to zero yards in that stanza. Chandler Jones' fumble recovery after Mikhail Marinovich's sack of Cardinals quarterback Justin Burke led to Ross Krautman's 23-yard field goal with 34 seconds left in the first half, giving SU a 17-14 lead.
But the second half started ominously, with Rob Long's kickoff going out of bounds at the 3-yard line to give Louisville the ball at its own 40. With running backs Jeremy Wright and Victor Anderson carrying the load behind a veteran offensive line, the Cardinals drove 60 yards in 10 plays, with Wright scoring on a 12-yard burst up the middle.
Trailing 21-17, the Orange put together its last, best drive of the game. On first-and-10 from the Louisville 30, sophomore wide receiver Alec Lemon ran a slantand- go pattern and had Cardinals safety Hakeem Smith beat by five yards. Quarterback Ryan Nassib's throw was on target, but Lemon took his eyes off the ball for a split second and dropped the pass at the Louisville 3-yard line.
"Drops happen in a game," Lemon said. "All you have to do is bounce back. Plays can happen like that. As a person you do blame yourself, but I have to overcome that."
Nassib went back to Lemon on third down from the 25, but the ball was slightly overthrown and it bounced off Lemon's fingertips in the end zone. SU had to settle for Krautman's 42-yard field goal, which cut the Cardinals' lead to 21-20 but also represented the last time the SU offense would get into Louisville territory.
An illegal block penalty set Louisville back to its own 10-yard line to start the next drive. But the Cardinals drove 90 yards in 12 plays-taking 6½ minutes off the clock- and grabbed a 28-20 lead on Burke's 21-yard touchdown pass to Josh Chichester.
After giving up 17 points and 194 yards in the first half, the Cardinals' defense limited SU to three points and 62 yards in the second half. Meanwhile, Louisville rushed for 115 yards in the second half, which is about what the SU defense has been allowing for 60 minutes this season.
The Cardinals (5-4, 2-2 in the Big East) clinched the win with about three minutes remaining, when Burke gained two yards on a gutsy fourth-and-one call by Louisville coach Charlie Strong at the Cardinals' 39-yard line.
"I talked to them about it in the locker room," Marrone reported. "I said, 'Tough loss, and now we have to go back to work and do all the right things,' Right now we're a 6-3 football team with three games left to play and all our focus will go on our next opponent, which is Rutgers."
SU (6-3, 3-2) will meet the Scarlet Knights (4-4, 1-2) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, in New Brunswick, N.J.; the game will be televised on ESPNU. Once again, SU can clinch a bowl berth with a victory-but maybe it's better for the Orange to leave that detail out of its pre-game planning.
"We can't make the postseason if we can't get through the regular season, so that is where my mind is," SU senior defensive tackle Andrew Lewis said. "We need to go out there and beat our next opponent and focus less on achieving a bowl bid."
Carter Passes Little: SU senior halfback Delone Carter, who carried 21 times for 107 yards and a touchdown, passed Orange legend Floyd Little to move into fifth place on SU's all-time rushing list with 2,724 yards. Carter's next target is James Mungro, who had 2,869 yards. "It is an honor," Carter said. "But I will recognize that and focus on that after the season.