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Syracuse Regroups After Season-Opening Loss

Tuesday, September 3, 2013 3:29pm
  • (AP Photo/York Daily Record, Jason Plotkin)
     (AP Photo/York Daily Record, Jason Plotkin)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - At long last, Syracuse coach Scott Shafer has his starting quarterback, and so far no budding controversy.

Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen took the nod over sophomore Terrel Hunt and played the entire game against Penn State in the season opener Saturday. Although Allen didn't have the best of performances in a 23-17 loss at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey - he threw two interceptions and was just 16 for 37 for 189 yards - his coach liked a lot of what he saw.

"It was his first start in a long time. It wasn't since his high school days that he had the opportunity to play in the flow of a game," Shafer said Tuesday. "He really hasn't played a lot of football in the last four years. I thought he did some good things early. Later, we put him in some difficult situations.

"We were in far too many third-and-long situations. We need to win on first down. But I did like his composure. He never really got flustered. He kept competing, and the communication was excellent on the sideline."

The 6-foot-5, 226-pound Allen is a graduate transfer from Oklahoma with one year of eligibility remaining. He is also a former blue-chip high school prospect, and in two seasons as a backup for the Sooners, Allen was 18 for 30 for 160 yards.

He didn't join Syracuse until preseason practice.

Shafer said he made his quarterback decision about 10 days before the opener after Allen had a good scrimmage during the Orange's visit to Fort Drum, an Army post in northern New York that's been used the past two years to build team chemistry.

Shafer kept it a secret until gametime.

"It wasn't so much that Terrel wasn't emerging," Shafer said. "It was just that Drew had a little bit better handle on things at that point in time. It was just two guys battling. I feel comfortable with both guys."

Hunt has never thrown a college pass and played only briefly on special teams in just one game in his Syracuse career. But his experience in the team's system gave him a head start on Allen in the race to replace Ryan Nassib, who was drafted by the New York Giants.

"When we made the decision to start Drew, it was difficult for Terrel, as it should be with any competitor," Shafer said. "But then he came back the next day and practiced well. He's never hung his head. All I told him was he's one play away from getting on that field, so he has to be locked in and ready to go.

"I'm very proud of the way Terrel has handled the situation."

The somewhat hostile environment at a neutral-site game - Penn State fans easily outnumbered those of the Orange - certainly didn't help matters. Syracuse players complained of trouble communicating along the line, and the Orange finished with five dropped passes and nine missed tackles.

"You can't have that," Shafer said. "We need to continue to work (at communicating)."

The Nittany Lions also contained what was expected to be the Orange's strong point this season. Syracuse sure seemed to miss the settling presence of former star left tackle Justin Pugh, who left school a year early and also was drafted by the Giants.

Tailbacks Jerome Smith (16 rushes, 73 yards, two TDs) and Prince-Tyson Gulley (12, 24) carried the bulk of the load for a running game that produced less than two yards per carry (37, 71). Last season, Smith had 1,171 rushing, the fifth-highest in school history, and Gulley contributed 830 yards and scored nine TDs.

"Up front, we have to win those battles," Shafer said, adding that he hoped to give George Morris and Devante McFarlane more playing time going forward. "We need to finish our blocks with the offensive line.

To Penn State's credit, they got good penetration."