In football, there can be such a thin line between winning and losing. As the Syracuse football team has found out on a number of occasions this season, the plays that decide a game don’t always happen at the end of games; they can happen at anytime. In the Orange’s third game of the season, Terrel Hunt threw a pick-six in the red zone late in the 2nd quarter, creating a 14-point turnaround and turning what could have been a four-point halftime deficit into an 18-point deficit in a game Syracuse lost by 14 points. The Orange fell victim to similar circumstances in their most recent loss, as Syracuse looked poised to extend their lead to either eight or 12 points over N.C. State before a pick-six thrown by A.J. Long halted the Orange’s momentum and handed the Wolf Pack the lead, and ultimately the game.
Those are the two defining plays of the 2014 Syracuse football season. They turned a possible win against Maryland and a probable win against N.C. State into two Syracuse losses. Those two plays are also prime examples of how the Syracuse offense is solely responsible for the teams losing record this season. On those two plays the Orange offense gave away touchdowns to their opponents without giving the Syracuse defensive the opportunity to stop them; a Syracuse defense that has surpassed pre-season expectations and done everything in its power to give the team a chance to win in nearly every game this season, despite receiving little support from the offense. In fact, in Syracuse’s three wins this season, the Syracuse defense has only allowed three touchdowns, while also scoring three touchdowns and recording a safety, which shows just how one-sided the Orange have been this season, even in their victories.
With the propensity of the Orange offense to give games away and their continued inability throughout the season to take advantage of a hard-working defense or capitalize on the takeaways created by the Orange defense, the Syracuse football season is officially on life support. What has been a disappointing and frustrating season to watch unfold can only be salvaged by Syracuse winning its last three games in order to reach 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game. Based on the way the team has played throughout the season, specifically its inability to win competitive games against teams of comparable talent, there’s little hope that the Orange can all of a sudden catch fire and win three in a row. Even head coach Scott Shafer used the word “miracle” to describe the prospect of his team winning its last three games and reaching a bowl game.
Despite Shafer’s optimism after every loss this season and his excitement at the challenge of winning three straight games to close out the season, his use of the word “miracle” speaks to how seemingly hopeless the situation is in which Syracuse finds itself. Shafer’s constant enthusiasm has also masked the fact that he has simply not had the answers necessary to get the Orange’s season turned around. This makes it hard to believe he’ll find those answers in time to save Syracuse’s season, as the Orange’s bowl hopes may very well die on the Carrier Dome turf this week against Duke, a loss which would cap off an embarrassing 1-5 home campaign.
Of course, three wins in three games is possible for any football team, and there are things the Orange can do to put themselves on the right side of the thin line that separates winning and losing. Even one or two wins over the final three games would give Syracuse a better taste in their mouth heading into the offseason and a bit more optimism for the future, especially considering the injuries the team has suffered and all the young players that have been forced into action. But coming up a win or two shy of a bowl game would also make the Orange kick themselves all offseason at the times they found a way to lose a game instead of finding a way to win a game. It’s that small collection of game-deciding plays that has caused the Syracuse football season to be put on life support heading into the final three games, needing a miracle to survive.