- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Syracuse has gained a lot of attention in the Big East and nationally for its turnaround and march toward bowl eligibility. Doug Marrone has earned praise and consideration for coach of the year honors.
Well, don't forget about Louisville and Charlie Strong. The Cardinals showed they're awfully improved, too, by beating Syracuse 28-20 in the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
And speaking of coaching jobs ... Strong and his staff got this victory despite playing without star tailback Bilal Powell and starting quarterback Adam Froman, who both missed the game with injuries. Yet the Cardinals controlled the action in the trenches, particularly in the second half when they held the Orange to just a field goal while consistently moving the ball with their running game.
Redshirt freshman Jeremy Wright helped make up for the loss of Powell by running 19 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs. Justin Burke, a senior who had thrown just seven passes this year, was 13-of-25 for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Burke's numbers aren't dazzling, but he made some really smart decisions in avoiding pressure and keeping plays alive for positive yardage. Most importantly, he avoided key mistakes.
The Cardinals got it done against the second-best defense in the Big East, one that had allowed only 21 points total in its previous two games.
Syracuse had only 52 yards of offense in the second half and couldn't do much of anything against the defense led by Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford. The big play came early in the second half, when Ryan Nassib found Alec Lemon just in front of the goal line, completely open. The ball hit Lemon in the chest -- and he dropped it. The Orange had to settle for a field goal.
Still, they probably wouldn't have done enough to win this game, especially the way Louisville was tackling and hitting in that second half. Syracuse had been winning with its defense, but had to taste its own medicine Saturday.
Louisville stopped an 11-game conference road losing streak that dated back more than three years. Now at 5-4 and 2-2 in the Big East, the Cardinals are in good shape to make a bowl game for the first time since the 2007 Orange Bowl. They have exceeded last year's win total, and Strong should get some consideration for Big East coach of the year along with Marrone.
The Orange (6-3, 3-2) had hoped to get their seventh win and clinch a bowl berth for the first time since 2004 (they need seven wins because of two victories against FCS opponents). They'll have to wait for that, and I still think they'll get there. But this really hurts their chances of winning the league, and it continues the strange pattern of poor defensive play at home.
Syracuse has allowed 73 points in two Big East games at the Carrier Dome, but only 30 in three games on the road. Perhaps the school can petition to play the rest of its games on the road, because this is the second straight time it has disappointed an energized home fan base with a loss at the Dome.
The big winner this weekend: Pittsburgh. The Panthers didn't play, but they're 3-0 in the league while everyone else has at least two conference losses.
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