Pressured in the pocket, Zack Mahoney stepped back and flung the ball. It was deflected into the air by an LSU defensive lineman and intercepted by the Tigers' Deion Jones. With Syracuse already trailing 31-17 midway through the fourth quarter, it all but clinched a win for LSU.
Prior to that play, Mahoney had been on a hot streak for Syracuse. He had thrown touchdown passes on two of SU's previous three drives and appeared to have put a lackluster performance in the first half completely behind him. But his improved second half wasn't enough for the Orange to overcome Leonard Fournette and LSU at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, as Syracuse fell 34-24, losing for the first time in 2015.
In the first half, Mahoney seemed to struggle to figure out LSU's defense. He went just 5-of-13 for 35 yards and no touchdowns. On a few occasions, he missed open receivers, typically by underthrowing them. The quarterback said he was experiencing some nerves.
"Those nerves kind of messed up my motion a little bit. I kind of reverted back to old habits where I wasn't as consistent as I should be... I just wish I could get those (throws) back."
In the second half, though, Mahoney's fortunes began to change for the better. With Syracuse trailing 17-3 in the third quarter, Mahoney hit Brisly Estime in stride down the middle of the field for a 40-yard touchdown pass. It send the Carrier Dome, which was raucous for much of the game, into collective chants of "Let's go Orange!"
Then, after LSU scored again to go ahead by 14, Mahoney orchestrated a seven-play, 56-yard drive. It culminated with a touchdown pass to Ben Lewis, who ran a fade route and caught the ball in the right corner of the end zone.
With Syracuse trailing 31-17 after another LSU, Mahoney's interception came on SU's next possession. But he also threw a third touchdown pass, this one to Dontae Strickland late in the fourth quarter. In all, Mahoney threw for 154 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Afterward, he didn't take any of the credit for himself.
"Great coaching, great play calling. The offensive line gave me enough time to get the ball out of my hands and our playmakers made plays."
The 24 points Mahoney and Syracuse's offense scored might have been enough for Syracuse to pull off the upset if not for Fournette, LSU's Heisman Trophy Award hopeful running back. Fournette ran for 244 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns to go along with it.
With the game still scoreless in the first quarter, Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris was nearly sacked by SU's Ron Thompson, but Harris pitched the ball to Fournette before his knee touched the ground. Fournette then took it 48 yards into the Orange's red zone. Fournette also had a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and nearly had an 87-yard scamper for a touchdown on the next drive, but it was called back due to an illegal formation.
Still, he became the first LSU player in program history to register back-to-back 200-yard rushing games. Last week, he ran for 228 yards in a win against Auburn.
"The kid's a great football player," Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer said. "Great football player... All it takes is one guy out of his gap ... for him to make a big play, and he did."
Shafer and Syracuse now head into their only bye week of the 2015 season. After that, they'll head to Tampa Bay to take on the South Florida Bulls on Oct. 10.