Today, the Syracuse Orange and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons played a football game. That game finished 40-37 in overtime. In what was a crazy back and forth game, the Orange offense put up flashy numbers in the loss on 354 yards rushing, 178 from Garrett Shrader, 153 from Sean Tucker. The Orange defense came within a few plays of pitching a great game, but ultimately Syracuse moves to 3-3 (0-2) on the season as Sam Hartman and the Deacs put them away in overtime.
We’re seeing the Jekyll and Hyde of this offense.
The increased use of presnap motion added a different look to the offense that we haven’t seen. Sterlin Gilbert through the first half changed tempo and playcall in a way we haven’t seen this season. His mix of RPO and rollout, with some shifted-pocket pass calls really opened up the Wake Forest defense and gave a new level to the offense, leading to 21 first half points.
That said, that ended at the half and the offense barely adjusted to changes that the Orange had to have anticipated Wake would make coming out of the half. Shrader’s feet kept the Orange out of another three and out situation in their first drive, but overall, the pressure continued to get to him following Wake dialing up more motions and stunts against an inexperienced front, with the loss of Airon Servais mid-game and Kalan Ellis starting for Chris Bleich on the day. Shrader’s insistence on running before looking to pass on some plays can really pigeon hole a passing offense where numerous options are running wide open.
On a positive note, with his 26 carries for 153 yards this game, Sean Tucker has now moved up the charts in Orange history. His fourth consecutive and eighth career 100-yard game ties him with Bill Hurley, Jerome Smith and Malcolm Thomas for ninth place in Syracuse history. The train keeps rolling, with many of those yards coming after contact. His ability to find a hole and cut are still impressive, watching him week in and week out.
Coaching decisions can make an impact
Accepting the holding on third and 13 allowed the Wake Forest Demon Deacons a chance to convert third and 23, which they did, ultimately leading to a Wake touchdown. I don’t know if accepting the penalty was the right or wrong call, but if you’re going to accept, the play dialed up after gave Sam Hartman all day to find a matchup on linebacker Stefon Thompson and play the mismatch. Rushing three with a spy and a soft zone over let the receivers and Hartman have all the time in the world to make things happen.
Again in the fourth quarter, the staff dialed up a 3.5 man pressure on 3rd and 22 when Hartman had picked apart the Orange defense with time on the prior third and long, again being slashed for 20 yards. The staff’s decision to go for the field goal in the fourth quarter, in fourth and short with the offense rolling was questionable, and ultimately Andre Szmyt missed his 45-yard attempt.
It’s no secret that time management isn’t the forte of the coaching staff, and today was no exception. The aforementioned accepting of the penalty ended up eating a bunch of time off the clock when they converted, but that’s acceptable if they don’t convert. It’s a gamble. At the end of the game, the Orange huddled on the sideline setting up a delay of game when the team wanted to go for two and the victory in regulation. Whether or not you agree with the call to go for it, a delay of game in that situation with your team on the field is a real rough look. The timeout before the delay of game in overtime was a similar poor look.
Bend don’t break nature of the defense is tested with plays over the top.
Three of Wake’s big scoring plays were long passes dropped over the top of the Orange secondary. The first was a play that Jason Simmons Jr lost his man, the second a play that Garrett Williams got pulled inside and beat on a post route. The mixing of that with a consistent short to midrange game caused a lot of issues for the Orange defense.
The ability of the Wake Forest line to handle five man pressure, no matter how it was dialed up, allowed Sam Hartman plenty of time to throw in a lot of situations. It kept the secondary in a tough position on a few plays and also set up the weird RPO delayed handoff that Wake was running all day. They let A.T. Perry run wild on three plays, for three touchdowns, the last of which, the winner in overtime.
There will be some things that coach Tony White needs to take away from this game and will need to adjust some of his coverages and playcalls against better passing quarterbacks. That said, even with the score, the defense played well enough to come away with the win, even if they didn’t.