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Final score: Syracuse 49, Duke 6

Exactly the sort of palate cleanser this Orange squad needed.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Duke James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange came into Saturday’s game against the Duke Blue Devils in desperate need of a win if they wanted to keep bowl hopes alive. Thankfully, they got one in resounding fashion, 49-6 down in Durham. They move to 4-6 (1-5) on the year.

Syracuse came out hot on offense, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. And then Duke was able to battle back a bit in the second quarter to narrow the advantage to 14-6 at half as SU’s offense seemed to struggle a bit once the scripted portion of the play-calling was over.

But the Orange took control of the proceedings in the third quarter with three touchdowns off three Duke turnovers, including an Andre Cisco pick-six. Christopher Frederick also collected an interception, while Evan Foster recovered a fumble and returned it for 27 yards.

Though the high point total — most for Syracuse in an ACC game this year — will get the headlines, it was the defense that really came through for SU in this one. The Orange’s three takeaways were critical to building what would be a 29-point lead in the second half, and helped jump-start an offense that was sputtering following those two initial drives. The return of McKinley Williams was a major factor inside, as it helped Syracuse stop the run more effectively than what we’d seen in recent weeks, while also helping SU’s ends get more pressure on Duke QB Quentin Harris.

The Blue Devils barely picked up 200 yards on the day before garbage time, and SU consistently found a way to bend without breaking any time Duke crossed the 50-yard line. Lakiem Williams led the Orange with 14 tackles, while Evan Foster collected 12. Syracuse managed four sacks on the day, including 1.5 by Kendall Coleman, one apiece from Lakiem Williams and Alton Robinson, and a half-sack by McKinley Williams.

On the offensive side, Tommy DeVito was just 6-of-15, but for 105 yards and two scores. When he was on, he looked pretty good. But the wind and cold weather definitely kept him off his game a bit. Trishton Jackson (two receptions for 68 yards) caught one TD, while Luke Benson (two for 28) caught the other. DeVito also caught a pass early in the game that would’ve gone for a 20-yard gain had he not stepped out of bounds.

SU’s ground game was really the key when things were moving. Moe Neal picked up 115 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Jarveon Howard ran nine times for 115 yards and a garbage time score. And Abdul Adams had 18 yards on seven rushes, while Taj Harris picked up 15 on one reverse. DeVito also had a TD on the ground in the first quarter. Jawhar Jordan had two carries for 24 yards and his own TD (his first at SU) in the final two minutes.

We’ll get into the “what does this mean?” conversation on Sunday and throughout next week. But it was definitely a win, and definitely what Syracuse needed to at least start making fans believe again. The game was far from perfect, but the Orange were opportunistic and avoided mistakes (just four penalties). We’ll take it.