No. 19 Syracuse Gets A Much Needed Test
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni knew what type of game he’d get from Tulane (2-7), which has always managed to give the Orangemen (6-2) a tough time.
Pasqualoni hoped that would again be the case Saturday, because after blowing out five straight opponents, No. 19 Syracuse was in need of a test.
Although Syracuse beat Tulane 31-7, the margin was only 10-7 in the fourth quarter and Syracuse was hardly assured of its sixth straight victory.
``We got the game we expected,″ Pasqualoni said. ``This was the last home game of the season for Tulane, for their seniors _ they’re not going to a bowl and they wanted to beat a team in the Top 25. Plus, they always play us tough.″
Tulane pulled off a 26-24 upset in 1990 in the Carrier Dome and the following year, Syracuse scored all its points in the first half and held on for a 24-0 win.
It looked like that might have been the case again Saturday. After a first-quarter touchdown and a second-quarter field goal, the usually potent Orangemen offense seemed to be simply going through the motions.
``We came out uptight and had trouble relaxing and playing like we can play,″ Syracuse receiver Quinton Spotwood said. ``All of a sudden, it was the fourth quarter and it was like `Hey, we better start scoring some points.‴
The feeling was foreign to Syracuse. After an 0-2 start, the Orangemen reeled off five straight Big East wins. In doing so, Syracuse outscored its opponents 224-52 and pulled back into the national rankings.
``Over the last five weeks we’ve scored some points,″ Pasqualoni said. ``Except for a stretch against Virginia Tech, we’ve had a big lead in every game. So this was good for us.″
Syracuse, still in contention for an alliance bowl berth, needed some fine-tuning in the art of close games with undefeated Army and Big East co-leader Miami looming.
``We can’t always win big games and we have to be able to play these type of games to be successful,″ Pasqualoni said.
``It wasn’t a reality check, but just a wake-up call,″ quarterback Donovan McNabb said. ``It just took us a while to establish our game and we paid a price for it.″
The Orangemen scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter to break open the surprisingly close game.
Tulane’s defense scored on the first play of the fourth quarter. On first-and-10 at the Tulane 20, Syracuse’s Tebucky Jones fumbled a handoff and Tulane’s Tom Latos returned it 77 yards for the touchdown.
``We came out thinking they would give us the game, but they came out playing hard,″ Jones said.
An unsportsmanlike penalty against Tulane on the touchdown return was assessed on the ensuing kickoff, and Syracuse’s Kevin Johnson took the ball at the 15 and returned it to the 48 to give the Orangemen great field position.
On third-and-9 at the Tulane 35, McNabb connected with Spotwood for a 35-yard touchdown strike to cap a four-play, 52-yard scoring drive. McNabb’s second touchdown pass of the day gave Syracuse a 17-7 lead.
On Syracuse’s next possession, Malcolm Thomas’ 9-yard touchdown run with 7:41 left gave the Orangemen a 24-7 lead.
Syracuse scored on its next possession on McNabb’s 4-yard pass to Kaseem Sinceno, capping an 11-play, 77-yard drive.
While waiting for its offense to get moving, Syracuse’s defense didn’t allow Tulane to do anything.
Syracuse, eighth nationally in total defense at 248.3 yards per game, allowed Tulane only 182 yards, including a mere 20 rushing. The Orangemen held the Green Wave to only 11 first downs and kept the ball out of Tulane’s hands. Syracuse controlled the time of possession, holding the ball for 38:07, almost 17 minutes longer than Tulane.