SYRACUSE — When UAlbany cornerback Christian Lewis pounced on a pass that bounced off the hands of Syracuse wide receiver Trebor Pena, picked it off and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, the UAlbany sideline felt a spark.
Having withstood an early Syracuse onslaught, the Great Danes got 10 points back in the span of just 33 seconds, pulling themselves back within four with 2:48 left in the first quarter.
The play was a sign that the Great Danes belonged on the field with the Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
“At 14-10, you’re like, ‘Yeah, we can play with these guys,’” Lewis said. “We heard it all week, guys talking trash about FBS, FCS. It was motivation that we could play with these guys.”
“It gave us a spark,” UAlbany quarterback Jeff Undercuffler said.
That feeling didn’t last long.
Two plays after Lewis’ touchdown, Syracuse struck back with a 73-yard scoring strike from Tommy DeVito to Damien Alford. That kicked off a run of 48 straight Syracuse points as the Orange raced away from UAlbany for a 62-24 win in the first-ever football meeting between the two programs.
“They’re an ACC team. They’re supposed to beat us,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said. “I get all that. I was a little disappointed in the first half. All I talked about to my team at halftime was ‘Who are we, and what are we going to be in the second half of this football game?’”
The 62 points were the most allowed by UAlbany since a 66-10 loss to Old Dominion on Sept. 28, 2013, during Bob Ford’s final season as head coach.
The long touchdown pass to Alford started the run, but it was another long play eight minutes later that provided the gut punch UAlbany couldn’t recover from.
With Syracuse (2-1) backed into a third-and-27 on its own 28-yard line, backup quarterback Garrett Shrader dumped a short screen pass off to running back Sean Tucker, who zipped through the UAlbany (0-3) defense for a 72-yard score that made it 31-10.
“We were swinging and missing,” Gattuso said. “I’m not even sure he [Tucker] made any moves.”
It was one of five plays of 40 yards or longer that the Great Danes surrendered Saturday en route to Syracuse piling up 623 yards of total offense.
“You just can’t give up those big plays,” Gattuso said. “We base our defense on not giving up big plays, and we gave up a lot. They were big chunks, and they were damaging.”
That was one of many highlights for Tucker, who turned his 16 touches in Saturday’s game into 132 rushing yards, 121 receiving yards and five total touchdowns.
Tucker’s day nearly doubled the entire offensive output for UAlbany, which managed just 135 total yards and didn’t find the end zone until backup quarterback Joey Carino engineered a pair of touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter, once things were well out of reach.
Syracuse’s defensive front dominated the Great Danes, holding UAlbany to seven rushing yards and sacking Carino and Undercuffler a combined eight times.
“We could not control them,” Gattuso said. “There were a lot of plays out there with some people open — if we could’ve got the ball off. We used every protection that we have trying to hold up.”
Undercuffler, who finished 7 of 13 passing for 69 yards while fumbling three times, said the Great Danes have plenty of issues to fix after suffering their third straight loss to start the season — and sixth straight loss overall, dating back to the spring season.
“We made a lot of mistakes again today,” Undercuffler said. “It wasn’t necessarily about Syracuse’s defense, it was about Albany’s offense.”
UAlbany will have some time to address the issues that have plagued the team thus far this season, as the team has a bye week coming up before returning to the field Oct. 2 at Delaware.
“Our egos are a little bruised,” Gattuso said, “but egos heal.”
“All we can do,” Lewis said, “is get back and go to work.”
UAlbany 10 0 0 14 — 24
Syracuse 21 24 10 7 — 62
S — Tucker 8 run (Szmyt kick)
S — Tucker 56 run (Szmyt kick)
UA — Burns 37 field goal
UA — Lewis 20 interception return (Burns kick)
S — Alford 73 pass from DeVito (Szmyt kick)
S — Szmyt 48 field goal
S — Tucker 72 pass from Shrader (Szmyt kick)
S — Tucker 12 run (Szmyt kick)
S — Shrader 2 run (Szmyt kick)
S — Tucker 26 run (Szmyt kick)
S — Szmyt 28 field goal
S — Shrader 1 run (Szmyt kick)
UA — Carino 2 run (Burns kick)
UA — McAdams 5 pass from Carino (Opalko kick)