Saturday, September 21, 2013

Tulane 17 Syracuse 52

Hunt won his first career start as the Orange rolled Tulane

What: Tulane vs. Syracuse, NCAA football Week 4

Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY

When: 21 September 2013

Syracuse looked like a different team on Saturday, and it wasn't just the new two-tone helmets the players were sporting. With redshirt sophomore Terrel Hunt making his first career start, the Orange (2-2) scored touchdowns on five of their first six drives to roll to a blowout win at home. Though this game wasn't a "measuring stick" game -- Tulane is coming off a 2-10 season and lost to South Alabama two weeks ago -- one thing was undoubtedly proven. Terrel Hunt is the right man to be leading this team right now.

With apologies to Drew Allen (who I have repeatedly confused with Patriots punter Ryan Allen), Hunt showed more promise in his first two drives on Sunday than Allen has in any of his four outings so far this season. His stat line gives a pretty accurate picture of how Hunt played -- 16-for-21, 175 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs. Hunt was given the benefit of fantastic field position on three drives, starting at the Tulane 6-, 15- and 17-yard lines. But he did what any quarterback worth his salt has to do in that situation and got Syracuse into the end zone all three times. As his line suggests, Hunt didn't make many mistakes and capitalized on his opportunities.

Two plays in particular impressed me. The first was Syracuse's first touchdown, a 15-yard pass from Hunt to Jerome Smith under three minutes into the game. Hunt was under pressure; in fact a defender pretty much had him in his grasp by the time Hunt released it. But the QB kept his eyes downfield and found Smith in space just past the yard of scrimmage. From there, the 6'0", 225-lber rumbled to the end zone to give the Orange a 7-0 lead.

The second play was Syracuse's fourth TD, at 13:39 of the second quarter. The drive had begun with great field position as Tulane punt returner Kedrick Banks gifted the Orange the ball at the Tulane 15.  Hunt's pass went incomplete on first down  and Smith lost a yard on second down, giving Syracuse 3rd and 11 from the Tulane 16. Hunt dropped back to pass and, after going through his progressions, tucked it and ran with the ball. He blew by one Tulane defender, giving him a clear path to the end zone. Hunt bumped into a teammate as he launched himself toward the end zone, and by the time his acrobatics had ceased, he had his second career rushing touchdown and the Orange had a 28-10 lead.

The first play stood out to me because it showed Hunt's calm in the face of the rush and his patience. If Hunt waited a fraction of a second longer, he probably would have taken a sack on that play. But he was able to get the ball out to the best option in time, and Syracuse was better off for it. The second play may have impressed me more given the situation. If you're given the ball on the opponent's 15-yard line, anything but a touchdown is a disappointment. On third and long, it would have been easy for Hunt to force something into the end zone, but instead he made the right read and took off for the touchdown. It wasn't just that Hunt scored; it's that he took what would have been viewed as a "losing" possession -- losing yards and settling for the field goal after inheriting great field possession -- and turned it into a win. That's the kind of response great quarterbacks make in those circumstances.

I know the last few paragraphs read like a love letter to Terrel Hunt, but I promise I'm not getting delusional. Syracuse beat up on two bad teams the last two weeks and was thoroughly outplayed two weeks ago against No. 18 Northwestern (and before you blame Drew Allen, remember that the defense gave up 48 points in that game to a team missing its star running back). And the scoreline against Tulane was inflated somewhat because Tulane gave up four massive plays on special teams that resulted in a ton of points for Syracuse.

The Orange now have two weeks to prepare for the ACC opener against No. 3 Clemson, but that's a game that the Orange will lose even if Hunt is at his best. What I'm more interested in seeing is how Hunt and this team fares over the remaining seven conference games, which will determine if this team can get to a bowl -- and if they could become a semi-serious threat next year with Hunt at the reins.

PS. I recognize that the quarterback is not the only player on the field that matters and that the Syracuse defense did a good job of pressuring Tulane QB Nick Montana (yes, son of Joe) all day. And that there were a bunch of other components to the win other than Hunt's performance. But because how Hunt plays for the rest of the season will have the biggest impact on how this team does (and because I didn't want to write a 2,000-word piece breaking down Tulane vs. Syracuse) I chose to focus this piece on Hunt. If you want a well-rounded game report and analysis, check out my Buccaneers-Patriots post (coming Monday).

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