Nate Shron | Staff PhotographerFootball
SELF-DESTRUCTION: Flurry of 2nd-half turnovers, mistakes by Syracuse lead to frustrating loss to Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The same end of the field that made Ross Krautman a hero, that sent a positive shockwave through a despondent fan base, that allowed a boy from the Bronx to achieve his fairytale, suddenly turned its back and shunned the program it uplifted two years earlier.
The same kicker stared through the same uprights that he split in 2010 to make Syracuse bowl eligible, and this time his goal was to give an upset-minded Orange team a third-quarter lead over No. 20 Rutgers.
But then disaster struck.
A blocked kick. A 75-yard run back by Rutgers’ Duron Harmon. A special teams touchdown. A demoralizing 10-point swing that loosened the lug nuts on wheels that would eventually fall off.
“We were shocked to see that happen,” said SU linebacker Siriki Diabate.
What was a tie game at the half quickly spiraled out of control for Syracuse, as the blocked kick and four additional turnovers led to all 16 second-half points for Rutgers.
The result was a 23-15 victory for the Scarlet Knights (6-0, 3-0 Big East) on a beautiful day in front of 48,011 inside High Point Solutions Stadium that left the Orange (2-4, 1-1 Big East) feeling as if it had beaten itself with poor execution on offense and special teams.
Doug Marrone watched in befuddlement as Harmon raced down the sideline directly past the Syracuse head coach. A member of the chain gang jogged by seconds later, attempting to catch up with the play in time for the extra point, and Marrone stared longingly in his direction.
It was an appeal of sorts to someone — anyone — for a remedy on a day his team’s performance yielded an abundance of frustration.
Marrone berated his offensive line once it returned to the sideline, furious with the poor field-goal protection after it had been a focus of the team’s practice during the week.
His headset was hurled to the ground. Then his visor. Then the clip-on headset control he ripped from his waistline to ensure he had nothing left to throw.
“It’s a tremendous momentum swing in the game where they have a very positive drive coming out in the second half,” Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said. “But it really goes from being a positive momentum swing in their favor to being a tremendous positive momentum swing in our favor.”
From there, a game that seemed more than winnable at halftime disintegrated into an onslaught of turnovers that Marrone called “the problem since I’ve been here.”
Syracuse’s next possession again showed promise, as quarterback Ryan Nassib moved the team across midfield with three consecutive completions to three different receivers.
But on a third-and-5 play out of the shotgun, Nassib stepped up in the pocket where the Rutgers defense converged and forced the ball loose. A back-breaking, 11-play drive followed that saw the Scarlet Knights tack on three more points to extend the lead to 17-7 late in the third quarter.
“Just one of those plays (Nassib) got f***ing double-teamed by two guys and it popped out,” SU offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said.
Remarkably, though, Syracuse was given chance after chance for redemption due to a valiant performance by its defense. The Scarlet Knights managed just 242 yards of total offense and put together only one drive in excess of 45 yards in the entire game.
But special teams doomed the Orange again at the start of the fourth quarter, this time on a fumble by punt returner Steve Rene. He fielded the punt near the right sideline before attempting to reverse his field to the left. Rene then cut up field where he was swarmed and promptly fumbled.
The miscue handed Rutgers the ball on the Syracuse 14 yard line, and quarterback Gary Nova needed just three plays to find the end zone on a 12-yard pass to Tyler Kroft over the middle.
“We have to stop turning the ball over,” Marrone said, pausing between each of the last four words for emphasis. “It’s very, very simple.”
Only on this day it wasn’t.
Twice more the Orange squandered possessions in the fourth quarter on interceptions by Nassib, as Hackett was forced to “put the run on the backseat” and call more shots downfield due to the deficit.
It added up to a death by self-inflicted wounds, and Marrone acknowledged how painful those can be.
“I’m not going to lie and tell you that I’m going to get in my car and forget about it,” Marrone said. “It hurts. It hurts. It hurts a lot.”
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