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Three takeaways from Syracuse’s 36-29 loss against NC State

Syracuse and NC State continue the trend of weird games, all for different reasons.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

In a game that wasn’t supposed to be close, the Syracuse Orange held tight with the NC State Wolfpack, before ultimately succumbing, 36-29 to the visitors. Late in the fourth quarter, a Christopher Dunn field goal pushed the NC State lead to seven and pushed the Orange backs against a wall. The call which was almost answered, until a questionable late sack and spike by Rex Culpepper ended the comeback effort for Syracuse. The Orange put up a fight in a game they weren’t expected to, and ultimately came up short.

While Syracuse’s defense is solid, some things keep biting them in the foot.

Over the course of the game, the Orange defense looked up to the task, but kept bailing out the NC State offense in third and long situations. This primarily happened through two paths; penalties and zone coverage.

At least a half a dozen times, the Wolfpack was facing third and over ten yards. At least a half a dozen of those, the Orange proceeded to let NC State back in it. Multiple pass interference calls, through the first half kept the ball moving in the wrong direction for the Orange. At other points, the zone coverage seemed to leave seams larger than normal, including Adrian Cole sagging inside on an NC State touchdown and a few times that the seams in the zone were hit on long balls by assignments missed or switches that didn’t come off.

On the bright side, the young linebacking corps, including Stefan Thompson, Steve Linton, Marlowe Wax, Lee Kpogba, Mikel Jones and Geoff Cantin-Arku had a solid game. Jones had another interception returned to the five yard line, resulting in one of the Szmyt field goals. Wax forced the Bailey Hockman mistake that resulted in the safety for the Orange. In general it was a good game for the linebackers.

Ifeatu Melifonwu again had a great day, though his streak of not giving up a touchdown is no longer intact. On top of his normally great coverage, he came up with the hit that created Jones’s pick and had a huge third down sack to keep the Orange rolling.

Taj Harris graced us with his presence and it made all the difference in the world.

When the offense wasn’t going three and out, Rex Culpepper was targeting Taj Harris early and often. Many of the first half yards came from Harris’s yards after completion. These YAC singlehandedly kept some drives alive. He finished the day with 146 yards on 13 receptions and a TD, which was a return to form for a receiver who never lacks in confidence.

Taj being the main target also opened up some plays for other receivers. Anthony Queeley took a great few balls on the slant or deeper in-route, but Nykeim Johnson beat man coverage over the top to take an absolute spot on pass from Culpepper to the end zone, opening the game up for the Orange. While Rex struggled on accuracy and decision making throughout the day, he was able to complete enough passes to make the difference. With the accuracy issues, the Orange were unable to sustain any offensive drives later in the game, which ultimately led to the Wolfpack re-taking the momentum.

Unfortunately the run game didn’t show up as it has in previous weeks. Sean Tucker really didn’t come up with much at all, with a combination of good defense and his offensive line not opening any holes. He ended up banged up in the fourth quarter, amassing only 18 yards on 16 carries.

Syracuse is still making their case for Special Teams U

Trebor Pena will get all the plaudits for his incredible kickoff return for a touchdown. That was a thing of beauty and lit the fuse for the Orange on the day. Combine that effort with a pair of Andre Szmyt field goals, and you’ve got some solid candidates for player of the game.

Nykeim Johnson also impressed on the day for the Orange, with a pair of big punt returns, giving the Orange solid field position on top of his touchdown catch in the first quarter.