FB : The end
CINCINNATI – The celebration carried on behind Greg Robinson; the Syracuse head coach’s somber words rendered barely audible by the fans that had flowed onto the field here at Nippert Stadium.
Robinson’s Syracuse career had ended minutes earlier, a 30-10 loss to No. 16 Cincinnati that secured the Bearcats an outright Big East championship. Many of the 34,603 who filled the metal bleachers of this 84-year-old stadium poured onto the field to celebrate the school’s first BCS bowl berth.
Robinson stood in a tunnel, about 20 yards away from the blissful mob. Behind him, black-shirted players skipped around, hoisting the Big East trophy. These were the sort of joyous moments he was expected to deliver when he was hired as Syracuse head coach in January 2005. The sort of moments that, four miserable years later, never came.
That tenure ended Saturday, in fittingly futile fashion, with a blowout loss to the Big East champs.
‘I’m starting to feel the emotions now,’ said Robinson, who was fired two weeks ago. ‘I’m trying to block it out.
‘It hit me when I got in with the team. There they are. This is the last time I’m going to talk to them in the locker room.’
Robinson, 57, ends his SU career with a 10-37 record, 3-25 in Big East play. His .213 winning percentage is the worst among Orange head coaches in the last 100 years.
Saturday’s installment wasn’t much different than so many of the losses Robinson has overseen. The offense was dismal and the defense ineffective – and the Orange never gained a foothold.
Syracuse was nearly doubled up in yards (412 to 211) and managed only eight first downs. Quarterback Cameron Dantley struggled, finishing with 59 yards on 6-of-23 passing. He was 1-for-13 after three quarters.
‘I wish we could have played better,’ Robinson said. ‘We just didn’t execute on offense.’
Syracuse (3-9, 1-6 Big East) served as the perfect doormat for the Bearcats and their fans, who showed up eager to celebrate Cincinnati’s first BCS berth. The Bearcats (10-2, 6-1 Big East) had already punched their BCS ticket, courtesy of Pittsburgh’s win over West Virginia Friday. Saturday’s win handed Cincinnati the outright Big East crown.
A trip to the Orange Bowl likely awaits Cincinnati – the school hosted officials from the game Saturday. Fans showered the field with oranges as the game wore on and their team pulled further ahead.
Only uncertainly awaits the Syracuse players, who will now wait to find out who will replace Robinson.
‘He said ‘We’ll talk tomorrow.’ He didn’t say much,’ said junior defensive tackle Art Jones, who faces his own unclear future, as he considers entering the NFL Draft. ‘We’ll have to find out who the new coach is, and then go from there.’
In the here and now, Saturday’s defeat was a dreary end to another dismal season. Cincinnati dictated the game from start to finish, establishing early that this contest would bear no resemblance to Syracuse’s stunning 24-23 upset of Notre Dame last week.
Syracuse ran 16 offensive plays in the first half. Cincinnati ran 44. The only whimper of Orange offense for three quarters came from senior fullback Tony Fiammetta, whose 58-yard rumble in the second quarter set up a Syracuse field goal.
There was little offense outside of that. Senior tailback Curtis Brinkley capped a stellar season with a quiet outing, rushing for 60 yards on 16 carries. At one point, Dantley went 40 minutes without a completion. He made his costliest misfire in the third quarter, sailing an interception to Cincinnati linebacker Corey Smith, who returned the pick 39 yards to the SU 35-yard line.
Five plays later, Bearcats quarterback Tony Pike tossed the first of his two touchdowns – a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kazeem Alli – to put SU in a 20-3 hole. Syracuse never threatened again, falling behind 30-3 before Dantley tossed a meaningless touchdown in the fourth quarter.
‘I talked to him for a while after the game,’ Dantley said of Robinson. ‘I just told him I competed for him really hard, and that I was appreciative for what he’s done for this team.’
And then it was over, for the Orange and for Robinson. The head coach ran off the field as oranges rained down from the stands. He was one of the first to reach the Syracuse locker room.
Later, he emerged for his final postgame press conference. He spoke for about three minutes as the Cincinnati fans partied behind him. After a few minutes, he was asked whether he was heartbroken by how his SU career ended.
‘I don’t know what that means,’ Robinson said. ‘You know what Syracuse football is to me. That’s the bottom line.’
Then Robinson turned – back toward the celebration on the field – and walked into a locker room full of Syracuse football players for the final time.
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