COLLEGE PARK, Md. The Syracuse defense has taken more than its share of hard hits this season, most of them of the verbal nature.
On Saturday, the unit struck back.
Relying heavily on a defense that appears to have finally reached peak form, Syracuse moved within one victory of becoming bowl eligible with a 20-3 win over Maryland.
In the process, the Orange foiled the Terrapins third attempt at securing their elusive sixth win of the season.
Jerome Smith ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns. He scored from the 1 to end the first drive of the game and added a 21-yard TD with 10:33 left to put the Orange up by 17.
But credit for this one goes primarily on a defense that previously surrendered 48 points to Northwestern, 49 to Clemson and 56 to Georgia Tech.
There were a lot of doubters out there, but we never doubted ourselves, coach Scott Shafter said. We got beat by a good Georgia Tech team a month ago. Im so pleased with the job we did on the defensive side of the ball. I love the way theyre hitting.
Durell Eskridge and Julian Whigham had interceptions for Syracuse, which also forced five fumbles recovering two of them. The Orange (5-4, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) have allowed only three points in their last two games following the loss to Georgia Tech.
The defense is amazing. We rely on them a lot, said quarterback Terrel Hunt, who accounted for 67 of Syracuses 242 yards rushing. We have faith on them that theyll get a stop. Were just really proud of the defense.
Maryland (5-4, 1-4) has lost three straight and four of five. The Terrapins have been trying since mid-October to reach the six wins necessary to earn a bowl bid.
Well, you dont have a shot to win when you turn the ball over four times and you have as many dropped balls, as many errors as we did, coach Randy Edsall said. We have the opportunities to make the plays and we didnt make them.
Edsall indicated that Marylands poor showing on offense was pretty much self-inflicted.
(The Orange) didnt really do anything different than what we had prepared for, he said. They had one new blitz that they came in with, but all the things that we saw, we just werent able to block some of it and make some of the calls that we needed to make to take care of it.
C.J. Brown went 21 for 40 for 211 yards and two interceptions for Maryland. He also lost a fumble.
I didnt execute to my potential and I put our team in tough situations, so that falls back on me, Brown said. So its tough for me to go and try to get the guys going when Im the problem, I was the one with the three turnovers today. Thats a tough situation. You cant let that happen.
Marylands lone score came in the third quarter, when Brad Craddock kicked a field goal to end a drive that was aided by several Syracuse penalties, including an offside call that eliminated a fumble recovery the Orange.
The field goal ended a run of 113 straight scoreless minutes by the Orange defense that began in the Georgia Tech game and included last weeks 13-0 win over Wake Forest. It also ended Syracuses bid to register consecutive shutouts for the first time since 1969.
That made it 13-3. In the fourth quarter, however, Hunt ran for 29 yards to set up Smiths game-clinching touchdown jaunt.
Syracuse won despite being penalized 12 times for 115 yards and going 3 for 14 on third-down conversions.
Nothing like fixing something after a win, Shafer said.
The Orange outgained Maryland 267-141 before halftime and scored on their first and last drives to take a 10-0 lead.
Syracuse took the opening kickoff and launched a 16-play drive that consumed nearly eight minutes and featured a pair of fourth-down gambles, the last of which produced Smiths first touchdown run.
The Terrapins converted a fourth-down try of their own late in the first quarter, but that only led to a missed field goal try by Craddock.
In the second quarter, a fumble by Smith started a run of five of six possessions that ended in turnovers, including three by Maryland two interceptions by Brown and a fumble by Amba Etta-Tawo. Syracuse converted the last turnover into a 34-yard field goal by Ryan Norton.