As transitions go, the move by Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference promised to be a rocky one after the Orange lost coach Doug Marrone to Buffalo in the NFL at a time when quarterback Ryan Nassib graduated. But the debut of new coach Scott Shafer and quarterback Drew Allen was promising despite a 23-17 loss to Penn State Saturday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.
Shafer chose Allen, a senior transfer from Oklahoma, over holdover sophomore Terrel Hunt. Allen completed 16 of 37 passes for 189 yards but threw two interceptions. The first one set up a field goal that gave Penn State a 16-10 lead, and the second came on a desperation pass at the end.
It was a loss, but Syracuse was in it until the final moments. Most importantly, the defense was every bit as strong as a year ago. The Orange held Penn State to 57 yards rushing, including just two in the second half, and allowed the Nittany Lions to convert just one of 16 third-down situations. After Syracuse pulled within 23-17 with 6:58 to play, the Lions failed to make a first down in three possessions.
“I hate to lose a game, but we went into this game with the goal, realistically, to get into the fourth quarter with a chance to win,” Shafer said. “I thought it was going to be a fourth-quarter game.
“Our defense played a tough football game. Those guys forced four turnovers [two interceptions, two fumbles]. On offense, we had a kid [Allen] start at quarterback that hadn’t played since high school other than getting him in for mop-up duty at Oklahoma. I was pleased with Drew for the most part. He threw the ball to nine different receivers…I liked his moxie, I liked his energy, I liked his fight. I thought he showed some tough, hard-nosed football.”
With a little more than nine minutes left in the game, Allen took a fierce lick from blitzing Penn State safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong that shook MetLife to its foundation. But the Syracuse QB kept going.
“I was comfortable,” Allen said. “All the experiences I’ve had over the past five years [four at OU] going up against great defenses in practice and being in a lot of game-type situations, I had no jitters. I was calm. To be honest, I had a lot of fun.”
From the look of the opener, Syracuse is going to be a tough out in the ACC.