It was not the prettiest win, but No. 20 Rutgers will take the ugly victory against Syracuse 23-15 on Saturday to become bowl eligible and stay undefeated.
The game essentially turned in the third quarter.
The teams went into halftime tied at 7. But Syracuse (2-4, 1-1) came unraveled in the second half. After opening the quarter with a nice-looking drive, its momentum was stalled because of a familiar bugaboo -- penalties. Ross Krautman lined up for the 33-yard field goal attempt, but it was blocked and Duron Harmon returned it 75 yards for the touchdown.
Rutgers, of course, thrives on huge special teams plays -- it was its fourth block of the season and first blocked field goal. Since 2009, Rutgers (6-0, 3-0) has an FBS-leading 27 blocks. Things unraveled from there for the Orange, with two more turnovers leading to 10 points for the Scarlet Knights.
Syracuse had its opportunities in the fourth quarter. Down 23-7, the Orange had eight attempts to score from deep inside Rutgers territory. It started with a first-and-goal at the Rutgers 10. A penalty on Rutgers on fourth down kept that drive alive. But Syracuse could do nothing with a fresh set of downs.
After forcing Rutgers into a three-and-out, Syracuse finally got on the board in the second half when Ryan Nassib threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Christopher Clark. The 2-point conversion to Marcus Sales was good. Syracuse got one more chance with a little less than 2 minutes left, but Nassib threw an interception to end the threat.
So the grand tally on the day for Syracuse: four turnovers, one field goal attempt blocked, seven penalties and 5-of-15 on third-down conversions. Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene was a menace all afternoon, forcing three fumbles and delivering a critical interception while finishing in double digits in tackles. He was the hands down defensive player of the game for Rutgers, which relied once again on its defense and special teams to win.
Rutgers' offensive play-calling was conservative for most of the game, particularly once it had the lead. But this is the formula Rutgers is going to follow for the rest of the season. The run game was not as effective today -- Jawan Jamison had 64 yards on 23 carries, the first time all season he failed to reach 100 yards.
But Rutgers did enough to win the game, and made the plays when it had to. Brandon Coleman had six catches for 104 yards, and Gary Nova was efficient, throwing for 152 yards and a touchdown without an interception.