SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Two weeks after the worst defensive performance in the short Scott Shafer era, Syracuse reversed their fortune with a shutout win over Wake Forest. The Orange front seven dominated up front pressuring Wake quarterback Tanner Price on nearly every play. Price completed only 22 of his 54 attempts (40.7%) and was sacked twice.
"The team is continuing to try to grow on that offensive side of the ball especially," head coach Scott Shafer said. "When you're trying to grow, your brothers on the other side have to do a good job picking up the slack. I thought our defense did that today."
It was a classic defensive battle as neither offense could get anything going in the first half, combining for only 268-yards. Each team ventured deep into opponents territory once in the half, but both drives were stalled by penalties. In the second half, it was more of the same for Price and the Wake offense, who only mustered 213 total yards on the day.
"Being an old defensive guy," Shafer said. "I found that game to be extremely sexy in the first half."
The Orange offense, however, came out firing on all cylinders to start the second half. Behind a 14-play, 75-yard drive to start the third quarter, Terrel Hunt plunged into the endzone on a quarterback keeper for the first score of the game. Jerome Smith was a workhorse on the drive with 33-yards on six totes.
The game changing play came two Wake Forest possessions later. With a little over six minutes left in the game, Tanner Price tried to throw a quick pass to the outside. Freshman defensive end Isaiah Johnson stuck his long arms up and batted the ball into the air. Johnson tracked the ball, dove, and caught the ball for a huge turnover.
"My confidence is always high," Johnson said after the game. "That's never changed. I have to blame this game on God really and my coaches put me in a great position. They said I can't be a freshman all year, so I had to step up and I did that."
On the very next play, offensive coordinator George McDonald dialed some razzle dazzle on a reverse pass. Quarterback Terrel Hunt handed to Smith who tossed to Jarrod West running in the opposite direction. After sprinting towards the other side of the field, West stopped and tossed the ball towards the endzone to a wide-open Brisly Estime who made the catch.
"It felt good," Estime said of his first collegiate touchdown. "It was a blessing. I've been praying for that touchdown."
The score put Syracuse up 13-0, which would be the final score. Estime finished with nine catches for 62-yards on his most extensive action of the season. He played nearly every snap in the first half and continued to be a focal point of the air attack.
Hunt struggled at times through the air, missing West, Estime and Ashton Broyld on some deep passes with receivers running wide open. However, he did not turn the ball over and was able to complete 18 of his 30 pass attempts for 144-yards. Hunt added 46-yards on the ground.
Prince-Tyson Gulley led the Syracuse ground attack with 94-yards on 13 carries. His biggest gain was a 67-yard yard scamper at the end of the third quarter, but the Orange were unable to capitalize on the opportunity. Syracuse finished with 205-yards rushing on 45-attempts.
It would not matter as the Syracuse defense continued to harass Tanner Price with by mixing up their blitzes and front seven look to take advantage of the huge gaps created by the Wake Forest offensive line's spread look. Despite finishing with only two sacks, the Orange defense forced Price to run for his life all game, frequently throwing off of his back foot.
It was the second shutout of the season for Syracuse, matching the defensive effort against Wagner. The win puts the Orange back to .500 on the season at 4-4, 2-2 in ACC play.
Next up for Syracuse is a road contest with Maryland on Saturday at 3:30pm eastern as the Orange try to pull within one game of bowl eligibility.