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Three takeaways from Syracuse’s 41-36 victory against the Virginia Tech Hokies

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Felt really good to write that “victory” in there...

Clemson v Syracuse Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange football team has won an ACC game on the road. Taking down the Virginia Tech Hokies 41-36, and possibly sealing Justin Fuente’s fate, the Orange walk away from an ACC road stadium winners for the first time since November 16, 2019 at Duke. It’s a good feeling and a welcome return to Lane Stadium, where they hadn’t played since 2003.

This was the strangest 550-yard performance, but Sean Tucker is still Sean Tucker.

Sean Tucker is very good. I can just write this for the first takeaway every game. He finished the game with 20 rushes for 112 yards and a touchdown. At 5.6 yards per carry, he’s still doing his part in this offense. He also passed the 100-yard mark for the sixth game in a row, and is officially over 1,000 yards for the season, the 17th 1,000 yard season in Syracuse history and the first since Antwan Bailey in 2011.

Garrett Shrader’s legs were also working on the day, gaining 174 yards on the ground, and racking up three touchdown. He also threw for 236 yards, and two touchdowns. Only downside was that it was on 47.1% passing, going 16-for-34. I don’t know what to make of it, but it was enough to make this a win.

Shrader and Courtney Jackson are also creating some sort of chemistry out there. The two are definitively on the same page, with Jackson having seven receptions for 86 yards, including a few big third down grabs. Devaughn Cooper had a solid four receptions for 3 yards as well, and Damien Alford came up huge on the last offensive play for the Orange, on a 45-yard touchdown reception down the seam.

Shrader is also doing his best Dungey impression, throwing his body around with abandon. On top of his running, he tossed himself at a huge block on Trebor Pena’s 17-yard end around and stood in to take a big hit on that last play to Alford. While his arm may not be the same, he’s definitely gutsy.

A big injury in the fourth quarter to Carlos Vettorello really killed some momentum from the Syracuse offense. Immediately after, Josh Ilaoa, the replacement center was blown up in middle, followed two plays later by Airon Servais who had moved to tackle, toasted on an outside-in that his man blocked Shrader’s pass attempt.

Garrett Williams is a big miss, but the defense held on.

Somehow the Orange defense who have been stalwart all year, made the Hokies look much better than they had been this season by the stat line. With Williams out, Adrian Cole was targeted early with, Tayvion Robinson beating him on a simple route on the outside and plays the boundary. In general, they were able to find seams in the coverage and let Braxton Burmeister look better in the air than he has most of the year.

Stefon Thompson came up with a huge sack late in the second quarter, taking Burmeister back out of any chance of going for the fourth down. That complimented the eight other stops he had for a co-team-leading nine on the day. Mikel Jones had a great day, racking up nine tackles as well.

Coming out of the half, offense and defense were both working at same time. A rarity in recent times. As per usual, Tony White had dialed up some changes to his scheme that were holding Virginia Tech in check, until the unit got worn down late in the contest. While there’s some talent in depth, more would help the cause to keep the Orange on track late in games.

Coaching decisions again could have made the difference.

I’ll lay it out there, the whole sequence at the end of the first half was a complete mess. Dino Babers was forced to call a timeout at the end of the half, on the one yard line, coming out of a timeout, in order to avoid an illegal substitution penalty. The whole sequence is as follows:

  • Shrader run to VT 1.5-yard line
  • TO Syracuse...
  • TO Syracuse...
  • Failed Pop-pass to Alford
  • Shrader stopped on goal line
  • TO Virginia Tech
  • Andre Szmyt misses 19-yard field goal

I’ll just leave that there.

That said, the offensive play calling did evolve, and while there were frustrating moments, Sterlin Gilbert didn’t call the worst game and dialed up some unique looks that gave the Orange the advantage down the stretch. Riding Tucker early, and then almost not at all in the second half was a little questionable, but ultimately the playcalling put them in a position to win with the pieces that were on the table in this game.

The other note is that the lack of a special teams coach has never been more apparent. From the long returns that were given up in coverage, to Szmyt missing a chip shot and having an extra point blocked, there were things throughout this game that screamed for a special teams specialist to right the ship. James Williams completed five punts for 199 yards, averaging 39.8, right around his season average. That said, if Justin Lustig wants to come back, he’d be welcomed with open arms.