No. 25 LSU Tigers hold off Syracuse Orange 35-26

By Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 24, 2017 at 12:56 PM
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- No. 25 LSU nearly blew an 18-point second-half lead, but wide receiver D.J. Chark raced 20 yards on a jet sweep for a touchdown with 1:52 left to seal a 35-26 victory over Syracuse Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.

Danny Etling threw touchdown passes of 87 and 43 yards for LSU (3-1), which was a heavy favorite but had its hands full with Syracuse.

The Orange rolled up 265 yards passing using a quick-tempo offense led by quarterback Eric Dungey.

After Syracuse trapped LSU tailback Darrel Williams for a safety, Dungey ran 14 yards for touchdown that narrowed the LSU lead to 28-19 late in the third quarter. Dungey also completed 32 of 53 passes, including a 22-yard scoring pass to Steve Ishmael late in the game that narrowed the deficit to 28-26 with 5:40 left.

Those touchdowns were part of Syracuse's 23-point second-half rally.

Clinging to a two-point lead and with the game on the line, LSU recovered an onside kick at the Tiger 44 and then reinserted Etling, who had been replaced for three series by freshman Myles Brennan.

With the aid of the short field, Etling engineered a 56-yard drive to put the game away.

Williams was the key player on the drive, racing 25 yards to the Syracuse 28 against a blitz. Williams finished with 92 yards rushing on 16 carries and added another 50 yards on three catches.

"I think the long ball saved us tonight," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said, referring to Etling's 43-yard scoring strike to Stephen Sullivan just before halftime, which gave the struggling LSU offense a 14-3 lead. Etling also had an 87-yard connection with Drake Davis on the first play of the second half that made it 21-3.

Etling finished 10 of 17 for 188 yards and two scores, and Brennan, getting his first significant action, went 4 of 6 for 75 yards. He also threw an interception at the Syracuse 20 that killed a potential scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

Orgeron quickly stamped out any speculation he was looking to move Brennan into the starter's role.

"We won with two guys," Orgeron said. "We were able to give Myles Brennan some reps when game was on the line, and obviously he did well in some situations and needs to do better in others. Danny is our starting quarterback. We wanted to give Myles some space with the game on the line."

Fullback J.D. Moore was upset that LSU failed to block better for Etling, who was under constant pressure.

"It was poor execution on our part," Moore said. "They ran a lot of complex pressures and movements."

While Syracuse coach Dino Babers said he was proud of his underdog team's valiant effort on the road, he said it wasn't good enough. He pointed particularly to LSU's quick TD strikes at the end of the first half and on the first play of the second half.

"I thought we had a good feel for their game plan," Babers said. "We had experience with their (offensive) coordinator (Matt Canada, who was with Pitt last year when the Panthers scored 72 points against Syracuse). I wish we could've done better coming out at halftime. Outside of that, I thought it was a really good (defensive) performance."

On Chark's decisive TD, he went right to left on a jet sweep, cut back inside near the left sideline and easily scored.

Syracuse lost its second consecutive game and dropped to 2-2.

LSU looked to be in control when Etling connected with Davis on a deep post route for an 87-yard score on the first play of the second half, giving the Tigers a 21-3 lead.

But Syracuse came right back with a 75-yard drive that was climaxed by a bit of trickery -- a handoff to running back Devin Butler, who wheeled and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ervin Philips, cutting the deficit to 21-10.

LSU switched to Brennan and regained an 18-point lead, 28-10, with a 91-yard, six-play drive. Williams gained 77 of the 91 yards on the drive, including a 43-yard swing pass that converted a third-and-4 and a 20-yard scoring run around left end.

After Syracuse backed LSU back at its 1-yard line with a 58-yard punt, linebacker Parris Bennett trapped Williams for a safety, making it 28-12. The Orange closed to 28-19 by taking the free kick 72 yards in 11 plays, with Dungey running around right end for a 14-yard score.

After Brennan was picked off at the Syracuse 20, the Orange continued their assault with an 80-yard, 13-play drive to close the gap to 28-26. The drive was kept alive by a roughing the passer call on 3rd-and-19 against LSU linebacker Devin White. Dungey connected with Ishmael for the 22-yard score with 5:40 left.

Even though LSU was having trouble moving the ball and had plenty of time to get the ball back, Babers attempted an onsides kick that LSU tight end Foster Moreau recovered at the 44, and LSU took advantage of the short field for the clinching TD.

NOTES: LSU benched P Josh Growden in the first half after he punted three times for a 34.7-yard average. Zach Von Rosenberg came in and nailed a 49-yarder that backed up Syracuse inside its 15. ... Syracuse P Sterling Hofrichter had a career game, averaging 46.7 yards on seven punts. He placed five punts inside the 20 and three inside the 10. ... Syracuse wasted a golden opportunity to take a 10-7 lead in the second quarter, but WR Sean Riley dropped a potential 55-yard TD pass in the end zone. ... LSU won its 49th consecutive home game against a nonconference opponent.

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