Football

Iseman: Syracuse can’t be counted out yet after displaying resolve in comeback win against South Florida

TAMPA, Fla. — Doug Marrone stood outside Syracuse’s locker room at Raymond James Stadium wearing a gray T-shirt and drinking an orange Gatorade as beads of sweat dripped down his forehead. The blue sweater and white turtleneck he wore during the game were gone, both too much for the SU head coach to wear in the muggy stadium tunnel.

He had just coached the Orange’s most intense and dramatic game of the season — a come-from-behind 37-36 victory for Syracuse on the road against a South Florida team that always had the Orange’s number.

SU put its resolve on display in the second half, making a valiant comeback before losing the lead, only to get it back again — for good — in a near-miraculous comeback. The Orange’s season also took on a much different tone.

“I feel like this could turn it around. This is a huge win like this against a great team,” said wide receiver Alec Lemon, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass.

Syracuse came into the game off a 30-point win over a struggling Connecticut team. Then, in the first half of Saturday night’s game, the Orange looked nothing like the team that blew the Huskies out of the Carrier Dome a week ago.

There were dropped passes and potential interceptions that could’ve easily been caught. A missed 22-yard field goal. Five penalties for a loss of 50 yards. All of this against the Bulls, who were winless in three conference games and had lost 10 of their last 11 games.

After the opening two quarters, Syracuse’s chances at a win looked bleak, if not almost nonexistent. B.J. Daniels was running all over the Orange defense, and a USF defense that ranks last in the Big East was putting up its best effort of the season to hold SU to a mere three points at halftime.

That’s when Marrone had to rally his team together with a halftime speech. He said afterward that screaming and yelling wouldn’t do anything. He had to get his players to believe they could still win despite how the first half went.

“Hopefully we learned from it, we’re going to come out here, we’re going to get the ball first. I’m not going to say we need to go right down the field and score, but whatever happens, happens,” Marrone said he told his team. “The defense will get us right back on the field and bail us out; if not, special teams will bail us out and three units need to work together.”

That’s exactly what ended up happening.

The win evened the Orange’s record at 4-4. It’s been an up-and-down year for Syracuse, and the season is still hinging between a success and another year without a postseason appearance.

But on Saturday, the Orange showed a resolve it hadn’t shown so far this season.

While the players spoke about their belief in the team during the year, it seemed as if that optimism stemmed more from hope than reality. Turnovers plagued the team all season.

And then on Saturday, Syracuse had to put its hope and belief to the test. After Marrone’s halftime speech, the Orange put together the program’s biggest comeback win on record, dating back to 1942.

All of a sudden, it seems SU has a new season. It now sits two wins away from a bowl berth. The road ahead is still a difficult one for Syracuse. Of its final four games, three are on the road.

The win over the Bulls proved the Orange can’t be counted out quite yet. Syracuse showed it can execute when the pressure is at its peak, and for SU, that’ll be the situation until the end of the year.

After Saturday night, Syracuse’s season took on a much different appearance.

“We learned how important it was to finish and what it takes to play a full 60 minutes and realize it’s never over,” quarterback Ryan Nassib said. “You’ve got to keep fighting. We can always come back.”

Chris Iseman is an asst. sports editor at The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at cjiseman@syr.edu or on Twitter @chris_iseman. 

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