Following a very rough start, Syracuse could have been down by as many as 21 points early on. But the defense kept the deficit to a manageable nine points, and an acrobatic touchdown pass from A.J. Long to Ben Lewis made it 9-7 at the half. Down 14-9 in the third, NC State fumbled the kickoff, but instead of falling on it, Syracuse tried to advance the ball -- and failed to. Two Syracuse turnovers (including a brutal pick-six) later, the Orange left the Dome defeated yet again, falling to NC State 24-14. Syracuse is now 3-6 (1-4) on the season, and needs to win three straight games to close the season if they hope to even be considered for a bowl.
This game was winnable. That goes without saying. The defense held the Wolfpack to just 14 first downs, and just one offensive touchdown. But despite constant pressure, Syracuse wasn't able to get to QB Jacoby Brissett often enough to shake the NC State quarterback up, and with no turnovers... it just wasn't in the cards for the Orange to pull off the win. You can -- and should -- point to the failed fumble recovery in the third quarter as the turning point (again: FALL ON THE DAMN BALL!!!), but it was a number of things that really derailed the victory after that:
- A.J. Long, despite a fairly excellent game up to that point, delivered a pick-six right into Pharoah McKever's chest -- deep in NC State territory, giving the Pack the lead.
- Late in the fourth, Long fumbled on one of many sacks he suffered on the afternoon, followed by a State TD to give them a 24-14 advantage.
- Syracuse was able to recover an onside kick with under 20 seconds left, but unfortunately was not allowed to advance it any further (did anyone else not know that rule beforehand?), nullifying a brilliant, would-be Dyshawn Davis touchdown.
- Running one final play with 10 seconds to go, Long's deep ball to Jamal Custis was intercepted
And it's those four things that make it so difficult to process through and praise all the positive things that happened in this game. The defense (!!!) was fantastic, and once again did beyond what was asked of them for more than their fair share of the game. They got after Brissett (even if they couldn't pull him down for a sack more than a few times), got stops behind the line of scrimmage and held strong deep in their own zone. Even when cycling in guys like Zaire Franklin and other younger players, SU's defense didn't let up and kept up a manic pace which State was rarely able to match.
Offensively, the first quarter was absolutely brutal, but by mid-way through the second quarter, we saw some big improvements across the board. Long consistently connected with Jarrod West, Steve Ishmael and Ben Lewis, and his TD strikes to the latter two players were both highlight reel throws and catches. Those moments showed a lot of growth for this offense and Long (hey, we even scored in the red zone!). But again, we go back to the bad points as the ultimate reasons for the loss...
Long was under attack the entire day -- even more so than he was against Clemson, and you can't like the amount of hits a player of his size has to take for two straight weeks like this. The offensive line is banged up, sure, but on most plays there was little-to-no time to release the football and a horde of Wolfpack players all over Long within two seconds. The running game once again revolved around a struggling Prince-Tyson Gulley, who received 15 carries (28 yards), versus just seven for Adonis Ameen-Moore (33 yards) and Ervin Phillips (eight yards). WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?! I would love to know, especially against a terrible run defense.
So yeah, you have every right to be frustrated with this loss. You have every right to be disappointed, disheartened and depressed. This was a VERY winnable game that was ultimately given away because of a lack of execution. Which should sound familiar to those who have witnessed Syracuse's five previous losses in this full season of woulda-shoulda-coulda football.
From here, you know the drill: win three and we're in the postseason. Lose any of those games against Duke, Pittsburgh or Boston College, however, and we're home for December. Given the hopes associated with this season when we started, it would be an absolutely brutal finish. But here we are, 3-6, with backs to the wall. There will be time to digest this one, but for now, I wouldn't blame you for walking away for a day or two. This Syracuse team has the ability to thrill, but in 2014, it's decided to be a health hazard instead. Go enjoy the rest of your weekend, folks. Little to see here...