Virginia 31, Syracuse 10
After running roughshod over their first three opponents, the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday got the challenge they expected from Syracuse. But the Orange threatened only to a point, and the 12th-ranked Cavs earned a 31-10 win that kept them undefeated entering their first bye week of the season.
Trailing 21-3 at halftime, Syracuse (2-2) played about even with Virginia in the second half and had a chance to get within seven early in the fourth quarter, but the Cavaliers (4-0) and their first-year starting quarterback, Marques Hagans, made too many big plays.
Hagans had his best game of the season, completing 11 of 12 passes and compiling 283 yards of total offense. He connected on passes of 39, 47 and 54 yards and added two touchdown runs, one a dazzling 59-yard scramble.
Tailback Wali Lundy's tough, 27-yard touchdown run got lost in the shuffle, but it would have been Syracuse's longest play by nine yards.
"I just wish we could have played them without giving up those plays," Orange Coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "It would have been a more interesting game."
The Cavaliers didn't quite live up to the standard of dominance they set in pasting Temple, North Carolina and Akron by a combined margin of 151-38, but they responded well, particularly with a pair of defensive stops inside the 10-yard line.
Virginia's worst news of the day came when senior defensive end Chris Canty, a potential all-American, suffered what Coach Al Groh termed a "not insignificant" knee injury midway through the fourth quarter.
"I thought we were tested real good," Groh said. "We met the test at a lot of points."
Virginia's biggest challenge came in the second half when the visitors mounted a methodical drive that gave them first-and-goal from the 7, trailing 24-10. But three rushes by tailback Walter Reyes (83 yards) gained the Orange only three yards, and on fourth down, quarterback Perry Patterson had trouble finding an open receiver. He rolled right with linebacker Kai Parham on his heels before throwing back across the field to tight end Joe Kowalewski in the end zone. At 6 feet 4, Kowalewski had a six-inch height advantage on cornerback Tony Franklin, but the pass dropped incomplete.
Pinned to their own 4, the Cavaliers put the game away by driving the length of the field. Hagans all but sealed the win with a spot-on 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael McGrew, a senior who sparkled on a day Virginia's receiving corps was depleted by a hamstring injury to Deyon Williams.
"I knew once it was man-to-man, there was no way [the defender] was going to stop me," said McGrew, who had four catches for a career-high 97 yards. "I was going to make sure I was going to get it."
Patterson got started toward a 141-yard passing day with a strong opening possession that brought the Orange to the Virginia 8. But on third down he missed Damien Rhodes alone in the flat and Syracuse settled for a 26-yard field goal.
Virginia was working from behind for the first time this season until Hagans produced one of those dazzling individual efforts Groh has taken to calling "Marques plays." Dropping back to pass on third-and-eight from his own 41, the 5-10 junior scanned the coverage for a few seconds, scurried right to elude a pass rusher and took off, breaking an arm tackle and shooting down the sideline with a handful of key blocks.
Minutes later Alvin Pearman's 36-yard punt return up the left sideline put Virginia in business at the Syracuse 27, where on first down Lundy took the handoff, probed the line for a moment, stepped out of an ankle tackle and then burst through the left side, out-running free safety Anthony Smith to the end zone. With 13:15 left in the half, Virginia led 14-3.
Hagans did it again on Virginia's final drive of the half. Rolling right with defensive end Ryan LaCasse in hot pursuit, Hagans showed his arm strength by throwing a pass deep downfield over two Syracuse defenders to tight end Heath Miller, who gained 54 yards before he was dragged down at the 13. Hagans dashed into the end zone a few plays later on a 10-yard quarterback draw.