What the Syracuse Orange football program did Saturday - easily defeating a ranked opponent, the Louisville Cardinals, 45-26, on national television - wasn't as big of a surprise as college football enthusiast may think.
For some it was a surprise Syracuse's offense, led by a pair of 100-yard rushing performances from junior Jerome Smith and sophomore Prince-Tyson Gulley, was able to compile 524 total yards on Louisville's defense, which was ranked second in the league coming in.
Also, it was a bit shocking from some, the Orange defense limited the Cardinal offense to 48 rushing yards, as well as, allowing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to throw for over 400 yards, but gave up only 26 points -- 13 came after Syracuse took a commanding 38-13 lead with 9:47 to go in the third quarter.
Oh, and not to leave out that SU, one of the Big East's most turnover prone teams, didn't turn the ball over against an opponent that entered the game with a plus-9 turnover margin.
However, despite all of the unpredictable aspects of Saturday's victory, the Syracuse fan base knew its team had a chance to put together a performance like this (and that's why it has been so frustrated throughout the season).
It was just a matter of when, and if they did, would it be too late to save the season? The answer was a resounding, no.
"I can understand why we're all frustrated because we were all making too many mistakes," Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said Saturday after the victory (video below). "One thing you will always hear a lot of coaches say is, 'there's nobody more frustrated than myself,' but I wanted to make sure I communicated to everyone that I do understand its probably more frustrating for our students, our fans and administration. We are talented enough to win a lot of football games."
Entering its final two games of the regular season, Syracuse needs one victory to become bowl eligible which, with one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, would be a big accomplishment.
The day was a lot more sweet than bitter for many of the Orange seniors, who played their final game at the Carrier Dome, a place that packed 40,312 fans and was as loud as it has been all season.
"It a great way to send our senior out," senior offensive tackle Justin Pugh said. "The crowd was great, especially for the defense. It was pretty loud out there. I don't know how (Louisville) completed some of those passes when they were backed up, I couldn't even hear coach (Greg) Adkins talk to the offensive line (huddled on the sidelines). Hats off to them."
Overall, Syracuse's seniors had a huge day. Here's how some of them finished their Carrier Dome careers:
- Quarterback Ryan Nassib: 15-for-23 with 246 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
- Wide receiver Alec Lemon: nine catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Earned Big East Offensive Player of the Week.
- Safety Shamarko Thomas: six solo tackles.
- Defensive tackle Deon Goggins: four tackles and one sack.
"I came in my first game and I didn't play, we played Louisville, and we didn't win," Goggins said. "I always said on my Senior Day we were going to get it. So, it was more of a graduating thing for me."
Nassib to Lemon
The most emotional story line to come out of Saturday's victory was the bond between Nassib and his favorite target, Lemon.
The pair shared an embrace after Nassib took a knee to cement its biggest victory of the season, and in their post game press conferences both talked about what that moment meant to them.
"Me and Al we've been through a lot together since we've been here," Nassib said about the embrace at midfield after the game. "We've experienced a lot. We've played a lot of games. Being able to go out with a game like he had today, I couldn't of asked for a better thing for such a good player and great teammate."
"Just that moment, taking that knee knowing you've sealed that victory, I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him," Lemon said. "I wouldn't be where I am without him and he felt the same way. Ryan and I are great friends and its special to share that moment with him."
On the day, Nassib and Lemon connected nine times for a total of 176 yards and two touchdowns - a performance which helped the senior wide receiver earn the Big East Offensive Player of the Week honor.
The first score was a beautifully thrown over-the-shoulder pass to the back-corner of the end zone, which Lemon caught, then stayed inbounds, to help SU take a 17-10 lead with 11:57 to go in the first half.
"As I came up to my depth I broke out and the corner was still sitting there," Lemon said about the touchdown. "I kept on running and I saw the cornerback shoot up, and Ryan had the confidence in me to hold onto the ball. He put the ball to where only I could catch it. We practice it everyday - one foot goes dead and you drag the other one - and I had to bring that drill back out."
The second touchdown came on the Orange's next possession. Syracuse faced a 3rd-and-4 from Louisville's 37-yard line and Nassib darted a throw to Lemon, who was streaking down the right sidelines, then stopped, cut back to the middle of the field, which made a defender miss, and ran into the end zone helping SU take a 24-10 lead with 6:13 remaining in the second quarter.
The Orange never looked back.
Is Nassib the No. 1 QB in the Big East?
Saturday's contest between Syracuse and Louisville featured two of the best quarterbacks in the Big East, and possibly the nation, Nassib and Bridgewater, going head-to-head.
The final stats would indicate Bridgewater, who finished 36-for-49 with 424 yards and three touchdowns, had a better day than Nassib. However, SU's senior led his team to a much-needed upset victory and was deadly accurate all game long.
"Its a team game and all I care about is we came out on top," Nassib said after the game when asked about his feelings on seemingly having the better performance of the two quarterbacks.
Despite being on the losing end, Syracuse's Goggins praised Bridgewater for his talents.
"Watching him on film, honestly, he's the best quarterback we faced this year," Goggins said. "I know we played Matt Barkley, and he's a good quarterback, but Teddy Bridgewater can pick you apart. Not only can he run but he can sit in the pocket and pick you apart."
Entering the game, Bridgewater seemingly was a shoo-in to win the Big East Player of the Year. After Saturday, the race got a bit tighter.
As mentioned above, the Orange sit one victory away from becoming bowl eligible - a feat that seemed almost impossible a few weeks ago when Syracuse was 2-4.
Can SU pull it off? Well, pulling off a road victory at the University of Missouri is hard for almost any team in the nation, however, these Tigers are not the same ones which were contending for National Championships a few years ago.
Missouri (5-5) is coming off a thrilling 51-48 overtime victory over the Tennessee Volunteers and only has one bad loss on the season - a 19-15 loss against the visiting Vanderbilt Commodores.
Meanwhile, Temple (3-6) is in the middle of a four-game losing streak, but does play the Army Black Knights before its season finale against Syracuse.