Coming into the game against the N.C. State Wolfpack (4-2, 1-1), this one was viewed as a pivotal match-up out of the bye week. A win would have put the Orange on the inside track for a bowl game for the second consecutive season, but a loss would make each remaining game that more important for postseason play.
Would SU look improved with the week off or would they be defined by the issues that plagued them in the previous five contests? As demonstrated by Syracuse, they appeared to be more of the latter in a game that was winnable despite their shortcomings. Here, we look at some of the biggest plays of the game in GIF form.
1. (13:10 - 1st) 1st & 10 at N.C. State’s 42-yard line: Despite making the trip and dressing up, Andre Cisco was unavailable to play in the Orange secondary. Not having the All-American safety is something that N.C. State probably planned for and looked to exploit the disadvantage by testing Eric Coley who got turned around in pursuit of Devin Carter. On their first play of the game, the Wolf Pack’s Bailey Hockman would complete the 27 yard pass to put his team on SU’s side of the field.
2. (6:03 - 1st) 3rd & 8 at Syracuse’s 24-yard line: The Syracuse defense saw the field early and often due to the inefficiency on the offensive side of the ball. On their second drive of the game, the Wolf Pack offense found themselves moving down the field with little resistance. With eight yards to go for the first down, Brian Ward dialed up the pressure and Alton Robinson coming off of the edge forced Hockman up into the pocket where he was met by Tyrell Richards for the sack. N.C. State would add to their lead with a 43 yard field goal.
3. (10:21 - 2nd) 1st & 10 at N.C. State’s 43-yard line: After a series of defensive stalemates, was this the drive where the Orange offensive would wake up? Initially it looked to be the case as they gained 37 yards over four plays; three of them pass completions. Facing an oncoming blitz, Aaron Hackett whiffed on his block allowing Louis Acceus to bring down Devito for a 12 yard loss.
4. (7:18 - 1st) 3rd & 13 at N.C. State’s 31-yard line: On third and long, the Wolf Pack tried to take advantage of an aggressive Orange rush by slipping it to Tabari Hines over the middle. Unfortunately for him, Coley recognized it and laid a punishing blow that could be heard throughout the stadium.
5. (1:23 - 2nd) 1st & 10 at Syracuse’s 32-yard line: Looking to add to their lead and given how the game was going for SU, make it insurmountable, N.C. State went to their bag of tricks. Playing a man defense, the Orange looked well suited to defend the screen, but Trent Pennix slipped to the sideline where Thayer Thomas found him unguarded for the 32 yard score.
6. (0:18 - 2nd) 3rd & 10 at Syracuse’s 22-yard line: With the first half coming to a close, there wasn’t much to praise concerning the Syracuse offense. There were a total of six punts and they had only crossed midfield once. In an attempt to manufacture something to put the Orange on the scoreboard, Devito stood in the pocket against a three man rush and showed off the range he has by finding Trishton Jackson for a 52 yard gain down to the N.C. State 26.
7. (12:55 - 1st) 2nd & 10 at N.C. State’s 27-yard line: When it rains, it pours. Following another Devito sack, Syracuse tried to get some points on the board before heading into the half via Lou Groza Award winner Andre Szmyt. The #collegekickers hashtag normally doesn’t apply for Szmyt as he’s been automatic, but the ball just hit off the goalposts. Szmyt happens.
8. (11:17 - 3rd) 3rd & 10 at Syracuse’s 26-yard line: N.C. State’s possession to open the second half was going as well as it could have been drawn up. Facing a third and long, the Wolf Pack offense dialed up a HB screen that was well read by Andrew Armstrong who jumped the block to intercept the deflected pass.
9. (7:00 - 3rd) 1st & 10 at 50-yard line: Following another Orange three and out, N.C. State looked to put this one out of reach for good by getting into the end zone. With Ifeatu Melifonwu also out for Syracuse, Antwan Cordy was asked to play cornerback and cover the Wolf Pack’s Emeka Emezie. Given Emezie’s height advantage (6’3”) over Cordy (5’8”), Hockman hooked up with his receiver for a 37 yard gain down to the SU 13. The defense stood tall in the red zone holding N.C. State to another field goal.
10. (3:38 - 3rd) 1st & 10 at Syracuse’s 36-yard line: Down 16, if Syracuse had any plans on making this a game, it was imperative they put points on the board with this drive. Given a free play due to N.C. State jumping the neutral zone, Devito found Taj Harris for a 36 yard reception to put SU on the opponent’s side of the field. They would finally end their shutout with a Szmyt field goal.
11. (10:04 - 4th) 4th & 6 at N.C. State’s 20-yard line: Looking to claw back from their 13 point deficit, the Orange put together a 13 play drive that positioned them in the N.C. State red zone with 10 minutes to go. After failing to connect on a pass to Jackson in the end zone (a play that should have been flagged for defensive pass interference), Dino Babers opted to roll the dice and go for it on fourth as time wasn’t on his team’s side. Rushing seven, the Wolf Pack defense forced their way into the backfield, but not before Tommy Devito found Cameron Jordan in the end zone. The pass was dropped to force a turnover on downs, but he was ruled by the official to have been out of bounds therefore making him ineligible to touch the ball. Like the pass to Trishton Jackson one play earlier, this one could have and should have been flagged as well as Jordan was forced out by his defender before he made a play on the pass.
12. (5:01 - 4th) 4th & 7 at Syracuse’s 48-yard line: When he’s been forced to make plays with his feet, Devito has demonstrated that he has the foot speed to make up ground. On a fourth and seven, the Orange needed a first down conversion or their night was over. Forced out of the pocked on a blitz, the quarterback ran up and out to the N.C. State 45 to extend Syracuse’s chances of making a comeback.
13. (3:03 - 4th) 1st & Goal at N.C. State’s 2-yard line: Unlike their previous possession which resulted in a turnover on downs due to penalties not being called, the Orange were positioned on the two yard line due to two pass interference flags by the Wolf Pack secondary. With N.C. State playing man coverage, Devito found Jackson on a quick slant for Syracuse’s first touchdown of the evening.
14. (2:48 - 4th) 3rd & 3 at N.C. State’s 42-yard line: Much had been asked of the Syracuse defense throughout the night and with the exception of the trick play assisted touchdown, they never broke. With no timeouts remaining, it was imperative to get a stop on third and short to force a punt or N.C. State would have been able to run the clock out before getting into victory formation. The Orange guessed run and were right as Andrew Armstrong capped off a strong performance by sniffing out the zone read and stuffing Bailey Hockman at the 41 for a one yard loss.
15. (0:17 - 4th) 3rd & 7 at N.C. State’s 49-yard line: Game on the line. Two minute drill. Could Syracuse snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? The drive started with promise as Devito connected on four consecutive passes to quickly get the Orange offense to the Wolfpack 39. However, after a false start (and late hit on the quarterback) which resulted in a 10 second runoff, SU found themselves in dire straits as time already wasn’t on their side. As the line had done for much of night, they found themselves overwhelmed by a three man front which allowed Larrell Murchison to seal the game with a sack.
At .500 with six games remaining, where do the Orange go from here? Many of the issues that plagued the program in the first five games of the season were evident after the bye week. Some things such as penalties and other disciplinary issues can be cleaned up, but others like offensive line play take time as the unit continues to find their footing and coalesce. The defense appears to be a group that will be heavily leaned on as the offense looks to break out of their funk.
Fortunately for Syracuse, there isn’t a Clemson-type team remaining on the schedule. The march for a bowl game continues on Friday night as Syracuse looks to rebound from a crushing loss back at the Dome against ACC rival Pittsburgh Panthers.