In taking another look at Missouri’s disappointing 31-27 loss on Senior Day to Syracuse, I have to give a tip of the cap to the Orange, and their record-setting senior QB, Ryan Nassib. For the second week in a row, Syracuse played very well in pulling off an upset, this one on the road. This was the ninth career fourth-quarter come-from-behind win for Syracuse’ all-time leading passer.
This was a game that Missouri had to win. Had to.
And, the game started off well for Missouri, as James Franklin guided the Tigers to a pair of first-quarter touchdowns. Of particular note is that Franklin had hooked up for touchdowns with a pair of back-up WRs, in Dorial Green-Beckham and Jimmie Hunt.
Missouri led 14-3 midway through the second quarter, when James Franklin lofted a pass toward Dorial Green-Beckham at the goal line. The Syracuse defender tackled Green-Beckham before the ball arrived, thwarting what appeared to be a likely TD, and setting the Tigers up with a first-and-goal at the Syracuse 4-yard line. Kendial Lawrence picked up 2 yards on first down, and two incompletions later, Andrew Baggett kicked a 20-yard field goal to extend Missouri’s lead to 17-3.
But, that goal line stand had been a win for the Orange, and it was a critical moment in the game. Syracuse Head Coach Doug Marrone later called that goal-line stand a “turning point” in the game, and cited a momentum shift that seemed to accompany the Syracuse defense to the sideline after they had kept Missouri out of the end zone.
Syracuse capitalized on that momentum and came back out and drove right down the field for a TD that made it 17-10 Missouri. On that drive, Syracuse ran the football on 8 of 11 plays, and gained 47 yards on the ground. The Orange had started to win at the line of scrimmage, and for the most part, they continued to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football for most of the remainder of the game.
In the second half, both teams battled back and forth until early in the fourth quarter when Nassib found Alec Lemon for a TD to tie the score at 17-17. By this time, Syracuse had found a weakness in the Missouri defense, and for the rest of the game, Nassib and Lemon took advantage of that match-up with Missouri’s #3 corner, Randy Ponder, who was covering the slot in Missouri’s dime personnel package.
Credit Syracuse for finding and exploiting a decided advantage. And credit Nassib and Lemon for making the plays they had to make. In fairness to Ponder, he did come up with an interception on a tipped ball on Syracuse second-to-last possession of the game, and gave the Missouri offense good field position and a chance to run out the clock and score the game’s final points.By this point in the game, Corbin Berkstresser had replaced a dinged-up James Franklin. The Missouri medical staff had taken Franklin’s helmet away to make sure that he didn’t try to return to the game. Missouri took over at midfield, and four plays later, Berkstresser found Marcus Lucas along the right sideline to set up a third-and-one at the Syracuse 25-yard line. Throughout the game, Kendial Lawrence had been finding ample running room through the B gap on the left side, between Evan Boehm and Elvis Fisher. But on this one, he took the hand-off out of the pistol and started running around the right side, where he was tackled for a loss. On that play, Syracuse dominated the line of scrimmage, and safety Siriki Diabate burst through unblocked to tackle Lawrence behind the line of scrimmage.
Baggett came in and nailed the 46-yard field goal to give the Tigers the lead. But with 1:52 remaining, and with the success that Nassib and Lemon had been having by exploiting Ponder, confidence was high on the Syracuse sideline. By failing to convert that third-and-one, which would have continued to run the clock down, the Tigers had left the door wide open for Nassib and the Orange to come into Faurot Field on Senior Day and steal a win that would have made the Tigers bowl-eligible.
Missouri didn’t register a sack of Nassib all day, but on the final drive, on third-and-ten from the Missouri 36-yard line, Shane Ray hurried Nassib into a poor throw that fell incomplete. The few times that the Tigers did pressure Nassib, he made some poor throws. Coach Marrone rejected an attempt at a game-tying 53-yard field goal, and instead chose to put the ball into Nassib’s hands on fourth-and-ten.
His offensive line gave him time, and Nassib found Lemon, who had beaten Ponder over the middle, for a first down. On the next play, Syracuse lined up in a triple slot formation and ran what amounted to a double pick, a football version of the picket fence. The Missouri secondary blew the coverage, and left Lemon alone out along the right side for the winning score. As the play unfolded, Kenronte Walker was the closest Missouri defender to Lemon, as he was trying to get over there, but there was obvious confusion at the snap as to who had who.
Ponder’s inability to cover Lemon, or Syracuse’ ability to repeatedly isolate Ponder on Lemon, and Missouri’s inability to pressure Nassib on a fourth-and-ten, combined to provide the Syracuse QB with the opportunity to complete the game-winning play. But, this game was full of potential game-winning, or game-losing, plays. In the end, Syracuse made the plays to win it, and Missouri didn’t.