|Posted on September 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
Syracuse's first possession was a rapid three-and-out, with quarterback Eric Dungey being sacked on his own five-yard line to end the drive. That was quite an opening stance by former Orange head coach Scott Shafer's defense, who subsequently forced Syracuse to punt the ball away.
The Orange would allow two first downs on each of the Blue Raiders' first two drives, with the fourth first down coming off of a defensive holding penalty that provided the Blue Raiders with a new set of downs instead of giving the Orange a sack that would force fourth down.
But, Syracuse sophomore strong safety Evan Foster would force a fumble that would be recovered by senior outside linebacker Parris Bennett on the Syracuse 16-yard line to negate the Middle Tennessee drive.
Then, the Blue Raiders and their defensive coordinator Scott Shafer would attack again, forcing another three-and-out for the Orange. Adding to the dismal start for the Orange offense, redshirt-sophomore punter Sterling Hofrichter struggled with the ball and chose to walk out of the back of the endzone for a safety instead of trying a last-second punt, putting the visiting Blue Raiders on the board first, ahead 2-0 early in the first quarter.
Orange redshirt-junior defensive tackle Chris Slayton along with Bennett stopped Stockstill on his quarterback keeper to end Middle Tennessee's third drive of the game with a punt.
However, Syracuse did nothing with this drive either, as Shafer's defense cancelled out all of Syracuse's first three drives, forcing them to punt each time.
The Orange would intercept Stockstill when senior outside linebacker Jonathan Thomas stepped in front of a passing lane at the Blue Raiders' 19-yard line and return the ball 15 yards to the Blue Raiders' four-yard line. From there, Shafer's defense would slow down the Syracuse offense for a fourth time, with Syracuse moving backward instead of forward and ultimately setting for a 25-yard field goal by senior kicker Cole Murphy to take a 3-2 lead, Syracuse's first time on top in an uneventful offensive first quarter for the team.
Dungey would be sacked for a 14-yard loss on third down on Syracuse's fifth offensive drive of the game, resulting in Syracuse's fourth punt in five drives of the first quarter.
Special teams seemed as if they got the Orange offense out of a bind when the ball seemed to stay inbounds after being touched by the Blue Raiders, but the official stated that the Blue Raiders had possession and then upheld the call after review, giving the Blue Raiders the ball on their own 14-yard line.
On that drive, Stockstill went 3-for-4 through the air, sending three of those four pass attempts to redshirt-junior wide receiver Richie James, who caught two of them.
Stockstill would then head to the ground, rushing for a 12-yard gain and a first down to the Syracuse 14-yard line. Sophomore wide receiver Ty Lee would attain the remainder of the yards on his 14-yard run to follow into the Syracuse endzone, giving the advantage back to Middle Tennessee, with a 9-3 lead.
The Orange would respond with a score of their own on the ensuing drive, where the team would run the ball seven times and pass twice, two completions by Dungey, ending with a one-yard rush into glory territory to place the lead back into the hands of Syracuse, at 10-9, with 10:49 to play before halftime.
After forcing a punt, Syracuse would go from their own 25-yard line all the way to Middle Tennessee's eight-yard line, but failed to score on a 4th-&-1 pass attempt by Dungey to senior wide receiver Steve Ishmael who tried to make a play on the ball in the end zone.
Despite the turnover on downs at the Blue Raiders' eight-yard line, the Orange would get the ball right back after forcing a three-&-out.
On 3rd-&-2, Syracuse received some help from their adversary, when Middle Tennessee made an illegal substitution which gave Syracuse a first down on the Middle Tennessee 17-yard line.
Dungey would shovel the ball to senior wide receiver Erv Philips immediately after, who ran 13 yards to the Middle Tennessee four-yard line for a first down.
However, the Orange would fail to score from inside the Blue Raiders' five-yard line for the second time in the first half, settling for a second field goal by Murphy, this from 22 yards away, extending the Orange to their largest lead of the game, four points, up 13-9 with 2:54 to play before the break.
Syracuse would force Middle Tennessee to punt on their next drive, but a roughing-the-kciker penalty on redshirt-senior defensive back Jordan Martin would give the ball right back to Middle Tennessee with a new set of downs and a 15-yard gain, placing Middle Tennessee at their own 36-yard line.
The Orange would bring the Blue Raiders to a 4th-&-3 situation, where the Blue Raiders would punt the ball away for the fifth time in the game, and second punt by quarterback Stockstill, sending the Orange to to start their drive from their own 11-yard line.
Nothing would come of the drive, with Syracuse going into the break holding onto their 13-9 advantage on Middle Tennessee.
At the half, both offenses looked dreadful in the stats columns, with Syracuse gaining eight yards on 16 carries in the second quarter (0.5 yards per carry), ending the first 30 minutes of play with 26 carries for 38 yards (1.5 yards per carry), while Middle Tennessee ran 10 times for 12 yards in the first quarter (1.2 yards per carry) and six times for seven yards in the second quarter (1.2 yards per carry).
Against a team that allowed 296 passing yards to the Vanderbilt Commodores in Week 1, the Orange amounted four passing yards in the 15 minutes of the first quarter, ending the first half with 73 passing yards in 30 minutes.
The Blue Raiders gained 118 yards in the first quarter through the air, but followed with a mere six yards in the second quarter.
Both teams began the second half by continuing their offensive woes, with Syracuse punting the ball away, followed by Middle Tennessee turning the ball over on downs.
With just under 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Dungey was hit by Blue Raiders' redshirt-junior defensive end Walter Brady, which was ruled a roughing-the-passer penalty with targeting and was upheld by the officials, disqualifying Brady from the game and gave Syracuse a new set of downs at their own 46-yard line.
Senior backup quarterback Zack Mahoney would come in to relieve Dungey of the drive, gaining his first new set of downs of 2017 in this his first game of play, on a quarterback keeper, for a nine-yard gain. The Orange would conclude the drive with yet another field-goal attempt, this from 40 yards away, and Murphy would connect for his third time in three tries, elevating the Orange to their largest lead of the game at this point, seven points, ahead 16-9, with 6:10 left in the third quarter.
Syracuse would force Middle Tennessee to punt for their sixth time in the game, but Syracuse sophomore punt returner/wide receiver Sean Riley would fumble the ball and Middle Tennessee would take over on the Syracuse 29-yard line. This drive would end with Stockstill sending the ball to James who crossed into the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown play that would tie the game for the first time in the contest, at 16-16, with 3:38 to go in the third quarter.
An unsportsmanlike penatly on the Blue Raiders would tack on 15 yards to the Orange 32-yard gain by kick returner Riley, placing the Orange by midfield on their own 47 to start this drive.
Middle Tennessee responded with good coverage in the secondary, contesting anything thrown by Dungey, something they had done throughout the contest. At the end of the third quarter, Dungey's longest pass completion in 45 minutes was for 16 yards.
Murphy would attempt his fourth field goal of the game, this from 40 yards just like the prior, but unlike the prior attempt, this one went wide right, keeping the score tied at 16-16, a score that carried into the final quarter.
The Blue Raiders would gain possession and continue their drive into the fourth quarter, scoring just seven seconds in the final quarter on a 48-pass play from Stockstill to Lee where Lee picked up his foot from a defender on the ground and went into the endzone alone, elevating the Blue Raiders to a 23-16 advantage with 14:53 to play in the game.
On their first drive of the fourth quarter, Syracuse gained a first down on 4th-&-1 when Elmore charged forward, then again when Dungey sent receivers out wide and ran forward himself. Continuing the theme, Dungey would run up the middle on 3rd-&-4, this time bursting through the defense and out into the open field for a 29-yard, game-tying touchdown, bringing the score to 23 apiece with 11:07 to play.
By nine minutes remaining, Thomas of Syracuse threw his body into Lee to stop him and went down on the ground, trying to get up and falling back down. He eventually came off the field, limping on his right leg. Syracuse's defense would allow two first downs on third-down attempts on this drive, the second a pass from Stockstill to redshirt-senior running back Shane Tucker who caught the ball, saw Syracuse redshirt-junior cornerback Juwan Dowels in front of him and the endzone, and leapt over him for the touchdown on a 10-yard play, placing Middle Tennessee up 30-23 with 6:46, breaking the tie once again.
Dungey would get the ball to the Blue Raiders' 24-yard line on the next opportunity the Orange had, but the ball went to the wrong team, with true freshman free safety Reed Blankenship receiving the interception.
Syracuse's defense would do their part, forcing Middle Tennessee's seventh punt of the game, giving Dungey and the offense 2:57 to tie or take the lead.
Dungey went to sophomore wide receiver Devin C. Butler for a first down on the second play of the drive, then completed his next two passes, to Philips and Ishmael, respectively, to bring up 3rd-&-2 on the Blue Raiders' 39-yard line with 1:56 to play.
Elmore would carry the ball on the next play for no gain, leaving the Orange with 4th-&-2.
Dungey trusted the ball in his own hands again, rushing ahead for the first down to the Middle Tennessee 33.
The "butterfingers" woes of Syracuse continued after that play, however, and Dungey would be sacked as well, putting the Orange in a 4th-&-15 situation. Ishmael would catch the ball for a 14-yard gain, resulting in a turnover on downs for Syracuse with 28 seconds to play, after the ruling on the field was confirmed by the officials.
In Shafer's first time back inside the Carrier Dome, he leaves with a win for head coach Rick Stockstill and company as his defense holds Dungey to 180 yards passing, an interception, and no touchdowns, on the way to a 30-23 score that leaves Syracuse 1-1 on the season and Middle Tennessee the same.
Syracuse will host the Central Michigan Chippewas on Saturday, September 16, at 3:30pm ET inside the Dome.
Worth Noting: Syracuse true freshman tight end Chris Elmore ran the ball four times for 20 yards (5 yards per carry) in the second quarter, along with being utilized in play fakes that involved him and two other players lined up in an "I" formation behind Dungey.
Dungey threw for 180 yards versus a Middle Tennessee defense that allowed 296 passing yards a week before, to Vanderbilt. He had 328 passing yards in the previous week against the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils.
The junior quarterback's woes on the field were affected in a major way by the numerous dropped balls by his Orange receiving core.