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Final score: Wake Forest 38, Syracuse 14

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Welp...

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange football team lost to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 38-14 on Saturday at the Carrier Dome. Yes, that sounds pretty lopsided and it was by the end of the third quarter. But after only trailing 17-7 at halftime, key mistakes really derailed this one in a hurry in the second half.

SU’s first half went as expected, Wake Forest ran all over them, while the Orange offense failed to really get going. With Deacons QB Sam Hartman protecting the ball well and Wake leaning on the rushing attack, there weren’t many opportunities to force turnovers. That meant Syracuse was forced to drive the entire field... something they couldn’t really do. The lone touchdown was on a nice-looking wheel route from Rex Culpepper to Nykeim Johnson.

Of course, that was one of the only things that went right for Rex in this game.

After his day started out with some accuracy (hit eight of his first 10 throws), Culpepper finished 14-of-26 with a touchdown and two awful picks. and tacked on a fumble as well — along with a couple near-fumbles to go with those. His first half leaned on quick screens, but once he started pressing and throwing downfield, things fell apart quickly from there.

Somehow, though, Dino Babers opted to keep him in well into the fourth quarter. Why, I couldn’t tell you. But it happened instead of opting for any of the three freshmen QBs on the roster (JaCobian Morgan, Dillon Markiewicz or David Summers, assuming the latter passer is healthy). Morgan would eventually get the ball at the halfway mark in the fourth, going 7-for-7 for 57 yards and a score.

And yes, that does paint a lot of gloom and doom, but there were some positives in this game that get drowned out by the final score. Cooper Lutz had an impressive game for the Orange, catching four passes for 25 yards and adding 15 runs for 87; easily making him SU’s most dynamic offensive player. Nykeim Johnson also showed flashes of play-making ability. On top of some quality returns, he had the aforementioned TD (and a total of 25 receiving yards on two receptions), plus two rushes for 22 yards.

Anthony Queeley had three grabs for 13 yards, while Courtney Jackson had four catches as well for 24. Taj Harris caught three passes. Sharod Johnson, Damien Alford, Aaron Hackett had a reception apiece as well, while Luke Benson had one for a touchdown on Syracuse’s lone red zone trip (courtesy of Morgan at QB).

Defensively, the day was pretty rough to start with, as Wake’s two-headed rushing attack carved up the Orange front. But SU wound up with five tackles for loss on the day: one each from Garrett Williams, Lee Kpogba, Tyrell Richards, McKinley Williams and Stefon Thompson.

As the defense started incorporating more blitzes from the linebacker and secondary positions, you saw a lot more disruption and a lot less explosive Deacons attack. Wake was struggling to average over three yards per run in the second half after averaging about 4.5 yards per in the first.

So... Syracuse lost yet again, and now falls to 1-6 on the season (1-5 in the ACC). The injuries don’t provide a ton of hope. And maybe Morgan’s numbers are boosted by playing against Wake’s second unit in his first real action. But hopefully we see more of him for the rest of the year, so we’re not simply going through the motions over the final four games.