Boy, was that far from the case.
“Obviously I’m extremely disappointed,” said Dino Babers. “But I’m also encouraged about what can happen down the road, and I have to keep that positive attitude going. We’re going to continue to work hard for the rest of this season and the start of next season to make sure that we can swing this thing back around.”
Syracuse’s offense took a drastic step backwards against Louisville. While JaCobian Morgan showed signs of a true freshman quarterback getting thrown into the frying pan too early, the offensive line didn’t help the cause. The pocket collapsed far too quickly for Morgan to feel comfortable as he was forced to make early throws. Morgan was sacked three times in the loss as the Orange signal caller struggled to move the ball downfield.
Morgan also took three sacks against the Cardinals, and his third one was the worst. Yasir Abdullah easily bullied his way past Airon Servais and popped Morgan hard, forcing the football loss. The freshman hit the ground hard as a result and was taken out for the rest of the game.
There’s honestly no excuse for the performance of the offensive line during Friday’s game. They didn’t look capable at all of keeping the Louisville pressure away from Morgan. Keep in mind the Cardinals ranked 11th in the ACC in sacks with 17. Morgan seemed rattled from the get-go at the amount of red jerseys that were in his face seemingly every play.
The story of this game should’ve been turnovers, as there were costly ones on both sides of the ball. The Orange defense continued its trend of forcing turnovers, albeit against a Louisville team that was one of the worst at protecting the ball. Two picks from the stellar cornerback duo of Ifeatu Melifonwu and Garrett Williams along with a forced fumble from Mikel Jones should’ve given the Orange excellent momentum to march down the field on offense.
But Syracuse also turned the ball over three times to ruin any chance of clawing its way into the game. Taj Harris let a pass slip through his arms for an easy interception while Nykeim Johnson and Aaron Hackett had fumbles on the kickoff. It didn’t feel like there were many chances for Syracuse to capitalize on, even with the three caused turnovers by the Orange defense.
The lone bright spot in the Orange offense comes from Sean Tucker, who had another excellent game on the ground. The freshman carried the ball 16 times for 93 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per carry. While his offensive stats on paper are impressive, he unfortunately needs to help with blocking as well, and some of his missed assignments in pass protection aiding the Louisville pressure to disrupt Morgan throughout the game.
That’s not to say that Morgan wasn’t flawless. He overthrew a couple of easy balls and his scramble movement wasn’t as calm as it looked against Boston College. More often than not Morgan escaped and scrambled to the short side of the field, which didn’t leave him much time to find an open receiver.
With the offense struggling, the depleted and young Orange defense did what it could to hold the Cardinals at bay. Despite some tackling issues, Syracuse did well to only limit the Cardinals to three yards per carry. Even though Malik Cunningham did have 219 yards through the air, including a touchdown to Tutu Atwell, the Louisville signal caller didn’t seem to be too much of a threat to the Orange secondary, much like most of the quarterbacks Syracuse has faced this season.
“I think the defense played extremely well,” said Babers. “I thought the way they played and the way they handled this offense based off of what we gave up last year to this offense (a 56-34 Orange loss), I thought the defense played well.”
There are still some noticeable issues as well on defense that are common themes throughout the season. Tackling remains a problem, especially on run defense, which allows ball carriers to gain an extra two to three yards. The young linebacker and safety unit also means that Syracuse’s zone coverage over the middle of the field remains extremely weak.
However, the defense did what it could to keep Syracuse in the game. The offensive inefficiencies are worrying. The Orange only converted one third down in ten attempts, and that came on the very last play of the game. Syracuse ran 38 less plays than Louisville and held the ball for over 23 and a half minutes less than the Cardinals. That equates to just under 300 more yards of total offense for Louisville in Friday’s game.
For once, it’s relatively easy to identify where Syracuse’s offensive problems lie - the offensive line. At this point, there is no way that any Orange quarterback will feel comfortable in the shotgun unless the offensive line sees a massive amount of improvement. That means that the football will most likely not move when held by Syracuse until the protection shows massive improvement.
It’s hard to expect anything else for the Orange offensively until the offensive line problems are fixed.