SYRACUSE, New York — Syracuse linebacker Zaire Franklin winced at the thought of what might have been.
"A few plays here and there, this could have went differently," Franklin said Saturday after No. 8 LSU held off the Orange 34-24. "We were really close."
Even with a fifth-string quarterback calling the shots, Syracuse (3-1) refused to wilt in the face of Leonard Fournette, who ran for a career-high 244 yards and scored twice for the Tigers (3-0).
With walk-on Zack Mahoney pressed into a starting role for the first time, Syracuse rallied from a 17-3 third-quarter deficit.
Mahoney hit Brisly Estime for a 40-yard touchdown down the middle off a play fake in the third, combined with Ben Lewis on a 2-yard TD early in the fourth, and hit Dontae Strickland on a 5-yard scoring strike with 1:53 left.
"I feel like I played OK," said Mahoney, who started in place of injured freshman Eric Dungey. "There were some nerves in the first half. I was not nearly as consistent as I should be."
After Strickland scored, LSU recovered the ensuing onside kick and held on for the victory.
"Let me credit Syracuse," LSU coach Les Miles said. "They believe they can win."
Fournette scored on runs of 14 and 62 yards and Tre'Davious White returned a punt 69 yards for another score to key LSU.
"My job is to make one man miss, and that's what I did," Fournette said.
It was the second straight 200-yard game and fifth straight 100-yard game for the Heisman Trophy hopeful, and it was a fitting place for him to shine again.
Syracuse's tradition is based on its stellar running backs from the past, the great Jim Brown, Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis and Little, among them. The Carrier Dome field is named in honor of Davis, the first black player to win the coveted trophy (1961).
Fournette, who posed with Little for a postgame photo on the field, also had an 87-yard scoring run nullified by a false start late in the third, but in the end it didn't matter.
"We weren't a dominant team today," Miles said. "We have characteristics of a dominant team, but we didn't dominate this opponent."
Fournette entered the game with six touchdowns, three in each of the Tigers' season-opening victories over Southeastern Conference rivals Mississippi State and Auburn, and was averaging 193.5 yards rushing per game. He boosted his season total to 621 yards.
LSU used big plays to hand Syracuse its first loss despite being called for 14 penalties for 120 yards.
No play was bigger than Travin Dural's 51-yard catch on a third-and-5 play in the fourth quarter after the Orange moved within a touchdown. Harris hit Malachi Dupre with an 11-yard TD with 9:14 left to seal it.
"Too many big plays," Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. "We were just about there. A couple of plays here and there was the difference. We left a lot of plays on the field. We could have beat this team."
Mahoney got the start after keying last week's 30-27 overtime victory over Central Michigan with a timely third-down completion that set up the winning TD in extra time. He finished 16 of 38 for 154 yards and three touchdowns against LSU in a game that did not have a turnover until Mahoney's pass was deflected and intercepted by linebacker Deion Jones midway through the fourth.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org