The Syracuse Orange went on the road and won a game in the Atlantic Coast Conference, beating the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 41-24. The victory, which ups the Orange’s record to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the ACC, should keep the team in the national rankings and in the conversation for some pretty interesting potential bowl destinations. In fact, with Louisville coming to the Dome on Friday night, this season could be progressing to something really special.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s look back at the three big takeaways from the win in Winston-Salem...
Syracuse can win even win its passing game doesn’t show up
The high-octane Orange offense looked more like an old school ground-and-pound bunch at Wake Saturday. Sure, quarterback Eric Dungey had respectable numbers, completing 23 of his 35 pass attempts for 157 yards. Yet, for a Syracuse QB, those could be first quarter stats (and they practically were compared to last week’s win over NC State). It appeared as though the Deacs secondary was not allowing for much separation for the Syracuse receivers, and that Dungey may have gotten some cold feet on certain passing situations.
Whatever the reasons, the passing game was stuck in neutral, meaning Dungey needed to turn to his feet to help SU matriculate the ball down the field. The senior rushed for 119 yards on the ground on 24 carries, averaging five yards per carry, and punching home one score. Dungey refused to let plays die by diving or lowering his shoulder for every inch of yardage. His aggressive running, for as dangerous as it has been, helped bail Syracuse out.
Meanwhile, the actual running backs, Dontae Strickland and Moe Neal, combined for 131 yards rushing. Both had their moments on the ground. Neal (67 yards) carried the ball 11 times and reached pay dirt once for SU. Jarveon Howard, the third back in the mix for Babers, bowled his way to two scores on the day.
Overall, Syracuse put up 41 points, at one point scoring on four straight possessions, with every touchdown coming on the ground. A surprising stat but a good sign for Dino Babers and company, who found a different way to win.
Speaking of which:
Syracuse won an Atlantic Coast Conference road game
Every coach, player and fan knew the numbers coming into the game at Wake. Syracuse had lost eight straight road ACC games, with that last victory coming at Boston College back in 2016. Further, since 2014, the Orange was a putrid 2-16 away from the Dome in conference.
While the Demon Deacons aren’t the Clemson Tigers, a road win is a road win. It’s even more telling that the Orange were able to get that “W” in some windy and cool conditions. The weather wasn’t as bad as SU’s last trip to Winston Salem, when players battled remnants of a hurricane, but regardless, this victory shows that Syracuse doesn’t need the Dome’s bubble-wrap protection to beat fellow ACC mates.
The last time Syracuse (how many sentences start off that way nowadays?) won a November road game, Scott Shafer was coach and Terrel Hunt was quarterback. That was also the last season in which the Orange went to a bowl game.
Syracuse’s defense is tough to figure out, but it appears to do just enough
Brandon covered this last week, and it’s been an ongoing theme all year, even with Syracuse winning. In this game, Wake Forest freshman quarterback Sam Hartman finished the day with 275 passing yards and two scores. However, Hartman was harassed throughout the game, to the point where he limped off the field after the Deacons failed to convert on a fourth down late in the game. Then again, Hartman just missed multiple open receivers in the first two quarters. Had the freshman been more accurate, Wake easily could have been up 14-0 before Syracuse was able to get settled in.
It’s not certain if SU’s defense bends but doesn’t break, or if it breaks a few times but eventually fixes itself.
Against the Decs, Syracuse forced three turnovers. The first, a fumble recovery, led to a key opening-quarter score. The next, off another fumble pickup, came with just four seconds left in the third quarter. Both of those turnovers stopped what could have been game-changing drives by Wake. And the last turnover, an interception by Christopher Fredrick, came in the end zone with 5:28 left to play, which effectively put the nail in the Demon Deacons’ coffin.
For the season, Syracuse is now an eye-popping plus 12 (plus seven in ACC play) in turnover margin. Juxtapose that with the fact that the Orange entered Winston Salem 11th in total defense in the ACC, giving up about 432 total yards per game. Wake was only able to muster 24 points despite racking up 434 yards as a team. Proving again that Syracuse’s defense is far from perfect, as it allows way too many big plays and its linebacking corp still has issues, but it does just enough when needed.