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Syracuse Football Vs. Northwestern: Big Plays Cost Orange Season-Opening Victory

Despite crawling all the way back from a 22-point deficit Saturday, the Syracuse Orange suffered a heart-breaking, season-opening loss to the visiting Northwestern Wildcats, 42-41, at the Carrier Dome. The Wildcats game-winning score came on a nine-yard reception by wide receiver Demetrius Fields from sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian with 44 seconds remaining.

It was a roller-coaster contest that featured a thrilling finish after four lead changes, a record-setting performance from Syracuse senior quarterback Ryan Nassib (44-for-65 for 470 passing yards and one touchdown) and a brilliant all-around game from Northwestern running back Venric Mark (284 total yards of offense, two touchdowns including a stunning 82-yard punt return).

In the end, it came down to big plays, check that, four HUGE plays from the Wildcats that turned the tides.

  1. After Syracuse tallied field goals on its first two possessions of the game and was finally stopped on its third, Mark ran back a punt 82 yards for the Wildcats first touchdown. At the time, Syracuse had all the momentum as both the offense and defense was clicking.
  2. The second-quarter interception by Ariguzo, who snagged a tipped ball from Syracuse senior wide receiver Marcus Sales out of the air and ran it back 49 yards to the SU 21-yard line. A play later, Mark caught a touchdown reception from Colter that gave Northwestern a 13-7 lead. Syracuse had advanced the ball into NU territory in four of its first five possessions.
  3. The dropped pass by Syracuse running back Jerome Smith that turned into a fumble, which was picked up and ran back 33 yards for a touchdown by Northwestern sophomore linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo. After the extra point, Syracuse trailed 28-14.
  4. Daniels eventual game-winning catch that came after a personal foul penalty on SU cornerback Keon Lyn, who shoved Siemian after he ran out of bounds, extended the drive.

Statically, Syracuse dominated Northwestern and here's the proof:

  • Syracuse out gained its opponents 596 to 337 in total yards.
  • The Orange ran 95 plays, while the Wildcats ran 75.
  • Syracuse averaged 6.3 yards per play, while Northwestern tallied 4.7.
  • The Orange had six red-zone possessions, while the Wildcats had 3.
  • SU's defense collected five sacks, while NU got to Nassib just once.

However, stats mean nothing if you can't make enough or prevent enough big plays, and that's what the Wildcats did Saturday in their seventh straight season-opening victory under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

Other notes taking away from Syracuse's loss...

Decisions, decisions

Apparently, Fitzgerlad was forced to make a decision before his team's final game-winning drive.

That decision was to either send out a banged-up Kain Colter, who started the game, or a cold but fresh Trevor Siemian. In the end, Colter was too banged up to go on the final drive and Fitzgerald, who obviously made the right call -- Siemian went 6-for-7 on the march -- decided on the sophomore.

Did Siemian flop?

On the Wildcats' game-winning drive, Syracuse' Lyn was called for a personal foul on Northwestern quarterback Siemian, who ran toward the sideline and was shoved by the corner back after he crossed the out-of-bounds line. When Siemian was shoved he fell to the ground which, more than likely, drew the flag.

Looking at the replay, it didn't look as if Lyn shoved Siemian hard enough for him to fall. So, in the post-game the sophomore was asked if he flopped when Lyn hit him to draw the flag.

Where was Ashton Broyld?

For those curious, Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone admitted during his post-game press conference that the plan was to use the freshman slash-back more than the Orange did -- Broyld was involved in just four plays, all of them passing.

"I think it's more circumstantial," said Marrone. "It's not what we talked about as a staff going into the game. We're trying to get out there and go. Northwestern made a little bit of a change and kind of hurt the one package that we felt we were going to go in there with him. That's exactly how it happened.'

Conclusion: Look for Broyld to be used more in the future.

Alec Lemon, Adrian Flemming could be back next week

There was no official word on Lemon or Flemming after the game, but Marrone did make it sound like both should be good to go when the Orange face the No. 1-ranked USC Trojans next Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC) at MetLife Stadium

"We are looking forward to getting Alec Lemon and Adrian Flemming back."

Quote of the day

"I was proud of the way they fought back," said Marrone, "I fortunately haven't been part of teams that have been down 20 something points and didn't' fight back. Does anybody in this room expect us not to fight back? I don't think any of you guys expect us not to fight back because you've seen it before in this team. It's a credit to this community. That's why those kids fight out there. They fight for themselves. They fight for the community. They fight for the University. They fight for the alumni. They fight for everyone else. When this football team, doesn't fight, it's a problem. Right now, they'll fight. They believe in what they're doing."

For more on Syracuse Vs. Northwestern, check back to this SB Nation New York StoryStream. Meanwhile, Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician has everything a fan could want on the Orange.