Syracuse, N.Y. — When your defense gives up 589 yards — on the heels of 694 yards the week before — there's work to do.
But big plays, quick strikes in all phases of the game, and a sloppy Syracuse team saved Maryland in a 34-20 win over the Orange on Saturday.
"We have to get better," said Maryland head coach Randy Edsall, a Syracuse graduate and former Orange assistant. "There are always things we have to work on and we'll work on them. Every week is a different week in what you have to do, and we did what we had to do to win."
What Maryland (3-1) did was make big plays in all phases of the game — an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown, a blocked punt that led to another score, and a 90-yard bubble screen that went for another touchdown to overcome its porous defense.
It didn't hurt that Syracuse (2-1) committed major penalties at key moments and that Orange receivers dropped too many passes.
"It's a game of turnovers and we know that," Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. "You have to win the turnover ratio. You have to take care of your protection in the kicking game. Usually, you rush for 280 yards more (than your opponent) you have a shot to win, but I look at those fleeting moments and you've got to come down with the ball."
Syracuse's special teams faltered, too. Norton missed a 25-yard field goal from the left hash mark at the end of the first half, prompting a chorus of boos from the hometown fans.
"I never felt like we gave ourselves a push in the momentum to get ourselves on track," Shafer said.
Cornerback William Likely delivered the backbreaker, intercepting a Terrel Hunt pass at the Maryland 12 and racing 88 yards for a score, giving Maryland a commanding 31-13 lead with 3:37 to go in the first half. Just a week earlier against West Virginia, Likely forced a fumble, had an interception, and returned a punt for a touchdown.
"I was shocked. I saw the green grass in front of me," Likely said. "Coach called a great play."
Likely also acknowledged his defensive mates would need to improve their game.
"We want to win, but we just have to do a better job and that's what we're going to work on this week," he said.
Defensive lineman Andre Monroe, who recorded the first sack of the year against a Syracuse quarterback, called Likely's interception a "game changer."
"I thought that (the interception) was a big turning point in terms of momentum," Edsall said. "Things like that really helped us because if they had gone in and scored, now they get their plays and noise going, and all those sort of things."
Maryland's offense started fast but managed only a 44-yard field goal by Brad Craddock in the second half.
"Offensively, we started fast like we wanted to, made some big plays," Edsall said. "I wish we could have finished a little bit better, but this is a tough place to play."
Maryland, which entered the game averaging 37.7 points per game, the highest in school history, almost scored its average in the first half en route to its 18-point lead at intermission.
After the Orange took a 3-0 lead on a 35-yard field goal by Ryan Norton, Maryland went to work.
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, who was 16 of 26, connected with wide receiver Marcus Leak in the right corner for a 25-yard touchdown, culminating a five-play, 59-yard drive that took just 1:58.
On the Terps' next possession, Brown hit running back Brandon Ross on a short pass in the flat and Ross did the rest, running down the left sideline for a 90-yard score and 14-3 lead with 6:38 to go in the first quarter. The drive took all of 47 seconds.
Syracuse narrowed the score to 14-13 on a 49-yard field goal by freshman Cole Murphy on his first career attempt and an 8-yard run by Hunt on the first play of the second quarter. It was Hunt's fourth rushing touchdown in his last two games.
Hunt, who added another rushing touchdown with 48 seconds left in the game, gained 156 yards on the ground, becoming the first Syracuse quarterback to run for 100 yards since Donovan McNabb ran for 100 against Miami in 1997. Hunt was 14 of 28 for 219 yards passing.
Syracuse, which defeated Maryland 20-3 in College Park last season, was hurt by a lack of discipline, getting hit with eight penalties for 89 yards. A holding penalty negated a 13-yard touchdown run by Hunt with 1:53 remaining in the first half.
Syracuse outgained Maryland 589 yards to 369, including a margin of 370-89 on the ground, and registered 26 first downs to Maryland's 17.
"We had three big opportunities to turn the game around and didn't make those plays, so it could be a different story," Orange linebacker Cam Lynch said. "They had a few explosive plays on offense and defense, so our job now is to go to the drawing boards and focus on Notre Dame."
Syracuse's Prince Tyson-Gulley gained 138 yards, his fourth career 100-yard game and second this season.