I journeyed to the Carrier Dome Friday night with my good friend, Max Robertson, in anticipation of a blowout.
And that’s just what occurred.
A blowout unfolded, but the team I expected to get routed (Syracuse) wound up routing the team (West Virginia) I expected to do the routing.
By crushing the 11th-ranked Mountaineers, 49-23, before a national television audience and more than 45,000 vociferous fans beneath the Dome’s Teflon-coated roof, the Orange men took another huge step on the road to national relevance.
No, I’m not saying SU is a top-25 club yet – heck, when you barely beat Rhode Island and Tulane, you obviously have much to prove. But the Orange men continue to move in the right direction under head coach Doug Marrone.
They still need to recruit more talented players in order to return to the prominence they enjoyed in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. But this impressive win, in front of an ESPN audience, might convince some prospects to jump aboard the Syracuse football revival train.
Although it’s seating capacity is just under 50,000, the Dome can be a terrific college football venue when it’s full. I was reminded of that last night as the Loud House truly was that.
SU quarterback Ryan Nassib was superb, accounting for five touchdowns – four passing, one on a run. With pass-rusher Chandler Jones healthy and back in the lineup, the defense harassed West Virginia’s vaunted quarterback Geno Smith all night long, sacking him four times and forcing two interceptions. There are few plays that quicken the pulse more than a kickoff return for touchdown, which SU’s Dorian Graham provided, going 98 yards to put the Orange on top, 21-9, in the second quarter. It was a game-changer for sure. As was Jeremi Wilkes interception of a Smith pass at the SU goal line just before the half, denying a score that would have reduced the Orange men’s lead to either four or five points.
And the icing on the cake was that this all occurred on a night when the university was commemorating the 50th anniversary of Ernie Davis’ Heisman Trophy season.
Again, I’m not going crazy here and telling you that 5-2 Syracuse is back with the big boys. But this was a statement win and it gives the ‘Cuse a legitimate shot at the wide-open Big East Champsionship and a major bowl berth in January.
And that’s great progress for a program that had experienced two 10-loss seasons in the years before Marrone returned to his alma mater to pick up the pieces.
He definitely has proven himself to be one of the most innovative coaches in America. And he appears to be the perfect guy to lead the renaissance of Syracuse football.