Andrew Renneisen | Staff PhotographerFootball
SHOCKER: Syracuse cruises past undefeated Louisville for 1st win over top-10 BCS opponent in decade
Syracuse 45, No. 11 Louisville 26
Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon embraced at the 44 yard line as their teammates streamed onto the field. Nassib had just taken the final knee, running out the clock to preserve a stunning Syracuse victory over an unbeaten Louisville team.
The seniors suffered through a 4-8 season in 2009. They took the program to a bowl victory in 2010. And they saw much of their final two seasons defined by disappointment.
“We’ve been through a lot, a lot of ups and downs and just that moment, taking that knee, knowing that you seal that victory,” Lemon said. “Ryan and I are great friends and it’s just something special to share that moment with him.”
In that moment, Syracuse (5-5, 4-2 Big East) moved one win away from bowl eligibility, shocking Louisville (9-1, 4-1) 45-26 in front of 40,312 at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. The touted Cardinals offense led by Teddy Bridgewater never clicked against a swarming SU defense. And the Orange offense never slowed, beating the UofL defense with an even balance of 278 yards rushing largely from Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, and a big day through the air for Nassib and Lemon.
It was Syracuse’s biggest victory since it defeated No. 11 West Virginia 49-23 in the Dome last October, and the program’s first victory over a team ranked in the Top 10 in the Bowl Championship Series since it earned a 50-42 win over No. 8 Virginia Tech in 2002.
“We’re proud of how they played in three phases,” SU head coach Doug Marrone said. “It just shows that when you have the capability of executing this way, we’re a very good football team.”
The dominant performance by the Orange prompted Louisville head coach Charlie Strong to say he was “very embarrassed” for his program, which suffered its first loss of the season after cruising to nine wins and climbing to No. 9 in the BCS rankings.
“We didn’t play well as a football team — offense, defense or special teams,” Strong said. “When that happens to you and you have those types of issues, it’s what happens — you come into an environment like this and lose a game.”
Louisville struggled from the start.
Bridgewater and the Cardinals offense had to burn two timeouts during their first drive, failing to stay composed in front of a raucous Carrier Dome crowd. Louisville settled for a field goal to tie the game 3-3.
The score was even at 10-10 going into the second quarter when the Orange started to separate itself.
Nassib connected with a wide-open Lemon for a 13-yard touchdown on a fade route into the left corner of the end zone to cap a 92-yard drive and move ahead 17-10. The frustration started to build for the Cardinals as cornerback Andrew Johnson chased after the wide receiver in vain.
The two hooked up for another touchdown to expand the lead to 14 after Lemon burned Louisville safety Hakeem Smith, causing his teammate Calvin Pryor to clap in frustration as he watched SU celebrate another touchdown.
“We thrive off of momentum,” SU center Macky MacPherson said. “We thrive off of getting that first down. We thrive on tempo, out-tempoing defenses, getting them tired and eventually hitting that big play.”
Syracuse continued to build on its momentum and took a 31-13 lead into halftime. And the Orange picked off right where it left off after the break.
The defense only allowed the Cardinals four plays before a punt capped their first drive of the half, and the offense answered with a nine-play, 74-yard drive that ended in a touchdown.
Smith’s score opened up a 25-point lead for Syracuse, setting off the first of many celebrations along the sideline throughout the half while draining all emotion from the stunned Cardinals team — ranked No. 11 in the nation and undefeated — across the field.
“Seeing the other team kind of hanging their head, kind of start giving up a little bit, we just feed off of that,” SU linebacker Siriki Diabate said. “And we just keep on going and just getting better each play.
“And the fans, the whole sideline, feeds into that and we just keep on going.”
The celebration continued throughout the game, during Nassib and Lemon’s final embrace and into the locker room.
And though Marrone admitted he tends to look to the next game — forgetting victories the moment they happen — he said he wanted his players to enjoy their biggest win of the season.
“I want to be able to celebrate this,” Marrone said. “Our kids did a nice job today.”
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