Ryan Nassib threw for two touchdowns and the Syracuse defense scored one of its own on a blocked field goal, as the Orange crushed Akron, 29-3, to open the season with a victory for the first time since 2003.
“That’s the way we wanted to open it up," senior running back Delone Carter said in a postgame interview. "Just set the stage and continue to work hard and do it every game.
“This is a different team, we’re starting a new tradition and trying to get back to our old tradition.”
Nassib, making his first collegiate start, looked in midseason form by completing 17-of-27 passes for 229 yards, plus scrambling for another 55 yards on the ground.
SU got the ball first and struck just five minutes into the game when Nassib connected with wide receiver Aaron Weaver on a crossing pattern. Weaver caught the ball in stride and outran the Zip defense on the 23-yard strike to put the Orange up 7-0.
“Coach Marrone harped all week, the first drive we’ve got to go down and score,” junior wide receiver Van Chew said. “Scoring on the first drive, it basically helped us and helped the team and helped the defense and basically gave us a lot of momentum.”
After holding Akron to zero yards rushing and less than 200 yards of offense in 2009, the Syracuse defense didn’t let up any this time around. The experience-laden unit forced the Zips to punt on their first five possessions.
In fact, Akron’s first and only score came on a field goal after linebacker Brian Wagner forced Nassib to fumble and senior Shawn Lemon returned the ball to SU’s 18-yard line. Even that drive was a victory for the Syracuse defense as they forced the Zips into a fourth and 15 and a 40-yard field goal.
“The sky is the limit. Defensively … that was a pretty good game I’d say,” senior Mike Holmes said. “The offense looked good, but we both have a lot of improvement to do. This is the first game, so the sky is the limit.”
Despite dominating the first half, the Orange only led 10-3 with 1:21 remaining before halftime. Nassib needed only 1:16 to change that. After moving the ball to the Zips 26-yard line, he found Chew for a touchdown in what may have been the play of the game.
Nassib executed a pump fake to perfection before lobbing a ball over the head of two defenders and into the arms of Chew. The only thing that may have been better than the throw was the catch, as Chew had to lay out in an effort to catch the ball.
“It was kind of tough, but I just told Ryan to throw it up there," Chew said. "If it’s near me, I’m going to catch it. We needed that score. After that score, that kind of shifted the momentum back to our side a little bit more.”
That touchdown gave the Orange back any momentum they may have lost, and sent the team to the locker room with a 17-3 advantage.
Both teams struggled getting anything going for much of the third quarter. After two punts to begin the second half, the Zips were able to move the ball to SU’s 23-yard line before being forced into another 40-yard field goal.
On the try, the Orange got a great push up front and Chandler Jones was able to get a hand up and block the attempt. Holmes scooped up the ball and outran everyone else to the end zone for a 59-yard score.
“We practice that every day," Holmes said. "It’s a very fierce battle with the offensive line and the defensive line going in the blocks, and my job is just to scoop and score. A big play on special teams is definitely a momentum booster."
Akron would not threaten again. A year after throwing for 191 yards and two touchdowns in the Carrier Dome, Zips QB Patrick Nicely struggled against the Orange.
The sophomore completed only 12-of-35 attempts for 111 yards. Akron was able to gain positive yards on the ground this time around, but not many as they were held to 55 yards rushing.
In the fourth quarter Syracuse tacked on another score when Carter – an Ohio native – found paydirt on a three-yard rumble. The senior was relatively quiet rushing for only 91 yards after putting up a career-high 170 on the Zips last year.
“It was just a great opportunity for us to go out there and show how complete of a team we are,” Carter said. “I feel like we were working on all cylinders. The defense played great, our receivers stepped up and played great and Ryan Nassib played great.”
Syracuse will look to continue the road success Saturday as they travel to Washington. The Huskies opened the season with a 23-17 road loss to BYU. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. Eastern Time.
Syracuse wide receiver Aaron Weaver hauls in a pass during Saturday's game against the Akron Zips at the InfoCision Stadium in Akron, Ohio. (Photo: Courtesy of Paul Tople / Akron Beacon Journal)