The most significant moments in the life and football career of Maryland head coach Randy Edsall occurred in the city of Syracuse and at Syracuse University, a place he called home for most of his adult life. Although he may not admit to it, every win in the Salt City as a visitor, including today, might be just as gratifying for Edsall.
William Likely returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter to thwart a Syracuse drive and the Terrapin defense pitched a near shutout in the second half to defeat the Syracuse Orange 34-20 and give Edsall, a 1980 Syracuse alum, a welcome homecoming to the Salt City.
“As I said all week along, this place has been very special for me,” Edsall said just outside the Syracuse University lockerroom, a room he was familiar with while an assistant coach for the Orange for 10 seasons, starting out as a graduate assistant in 1980. “They gave me the opportunity to come here and get an education, and to be a part of the Syracuse Orange football family. I met my wife here. My daughter was born here. My son went to school here for a semester. I’m just glad that we won.”
Having any of the defenses play a big part in the ball game would have seemed like a fantasy, as eight of the first nine drives combined saw the offense drive into opponents’ territory. While Maryland was able to convert its first two drives of the game into touchdowns – including a 91-yard catch and run from C.J. Brown to running back Brandon Ross for a 14-3 advantage – Syracuse’s forays into the Terrapin side of the field were almost always checkered by self-inflicted wounds, mostly penalties. On the first drive of the game, Syracuse receiver Steve Ishmael dropped a pass near the goal line on a third down from inside Maryland’s 20, forcing Syracuse to settle for a short field goal by Ryan Norton to open the scoring. Another field goal later in the quarter, a 49-yarder from long-distance kicker Cole Murphy, cut Maryland’s lead to 14-6, and after Syracuse’s defense forced its first three-and-out, the Orange drove down the field to end the action-packed first stanza. Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt ran in from eights yards out to get within one at 14-13.
The second quarter saw the Orange outgain Maryland 118-66, but also saw Orange get outscored 17-7, with a myriad of miscues helping put the game away for the Terps. Forcing Syracuse to punt with Maryland up four, Anthony Dixon blocked the kick and set up Maryland inside of the Syracuse 30. Four plays later, Jacquille Veii ran in from four yards and ballooned Maryland’s lead to 11.
Almost undeterred, the Orange drove back down the field, with a 51-yard pass down the left sideline from Hunt to Jarrod West setting up Syracuse in the red zone. Two plays later, the ill-fated pass from Hunt hit the hands of Likely as Hunt and his receiver were not on the same page on a slant route. Likely eluded Hunt while tight-roping the sideline to score on the pick six, putting Maryland up 31-13. The interception was Syracuse’s first turnover since the first quarter of last season’s Texas Bowl victory over Minnesota.
Syracuse avoided Likely, a premier return specialist, all afternoon by kicking away from him on punts and kickoffs, but he still managed to burn the Orange on a return regardless.
“He [defensive coordinator Brian Stewart] called a great play,” Likely said about the play which saw him grab his second interception in as many years against the Orange. “He told me to make a play on it. Once I saw two go up the field, I had to squeeze one, and that’s what I did. I was shocked, but I just saw the green grass.”
As was the theme in the entire first half, Syracuse’s final drive of the half entered the shadows of Maryland’s endzone, but two holding penalties – including one that abrogated a touchdown run by Hunt – sent the Orange backwards and forced another field goal attempt. Norton then missed a 25-yard field goal on the final play of the half, deflating the team and sending the Carrier Dome crowd into a chorus of boos.
“I think each of those has an opportunity to be a game changer,“ said Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer when talking about the multiple missed opportunities his Orange squandered in the red zone. “Coming up short and having some holding penalties that really knocked us back and put us in a tough situation. It’s such a game of momentum, and then we missed that field goal there [before halftime] and that was disappointing.”
Syracuse ended up gaining 589 yards of total offense in the game (including 389 yards rushing), but it took Hunt’s one-yard plunge into the endzone to avoid being shutout in the second half. Despite Maryland giving up a combined 1,283 yards in its last two games, Edsall believes how you move on from allowing the big plays will ultimately decide how he views the defensive performance on the day.
“We’re starting to develop this mentality that we just play every play like it’s our last play,” Edsall said. When that one is over, you go on to the next one and you don’t worry about it. If they move the ball, so what, you just go to the next play and you just keep playing until you stop them or they score. That’s the kind of mentality that you have to have and we’re starting to believe in that.”
Last season, it was Edsall’s alma mater that went on the road and came away with a 20-3 win over his Terrapins. Though Maryland returned the favor, the allegiances still run deep for Edsall when it comes to the Orange.
“I’ll root for Syracuse every other game, except this one.”
[Cover photo (Randy Edsall) courtesy of Nick Lisi/AP Photo]