For over a quarter, there was a shot that the Syracuse Orange football team could drag this game into rock fight territory and pull off an upset win over the NC State Wolfpack on the road. But then the flood gates opened, Devin Leary started hitting downfield targets, and they went into the half down 28-7. SU would lose, 41-17 and fall to 5-6 on the year.
NC State’s first touchdown came with six minutes to go in the second, but they followed that up with a quick pick-six to extend the lead to 14-0. Syracuse answered with a 55-yard Sean Tucker score, but instead of staying within a touchdown, the Orange would collapse to close the half. They allowed a kickoff return for a TD, then a late drive for another.
The second half wasn’t much different. SU had to punt on the first possession, leading to an NC State field goal. Andre Szmyt would tack on a 45-yard field goal himself, but all that did was keep them within 21. NCSU added another touchdown late in the third to basically put things away while the Orange methodically chased the 28-point lead (which they’d trim to 21 in garbage time before an NC State field goal created the final, 24-point difference).
Sterlin Gilbert’s gampelan was flawed from the start in this one, as SU handed it off to Sean Tucker just eight times in the first half and threw plenty to put themselves in third-and-long situations. They didn’t even get close to the red zone until midway through the third quarter. Its initial first downs were all via NC State penalties.
Despite the obvious struggles throwing the ball, they kept at it, though. Garrett Shrader finished the game just 8-of-20 for 63 yards and the aforementioned pick-six. As stated before this game, opponents have figured something out with the Orange QB of late. He’s just 23-of-52 for 174 yards passing over the last three games. He had 70 yards on the ground, but would note that a large chunk of those (48 yards) came from a long garbage time TD run. Beyond that, it was 22 yards on 16 carries, including five sacks.
Even with ‘Cuse ignoring the run game — first by choice and then by some necessity based on the score — Tucker still managed 105 yards and a TD on 13 carries. A common thread for games that SU has lost by more than a score is not giving Tucker the ball enough, and that was the case once again here, just as it was vs. Rutgers and Louisville.
Devaughn Cooper’s emerged as a favorite target of Shrader when the two can actually connect. The senior caught three passes for 31 yards. Cooper Lutz was the only other player with more than one catch, nabbing two for two yards.
But putting ALL of the onus on the play-calling would also be disingenuous. For the second straight week (and you could make a case that it’s been a month straight), Syracuse was beat for big plays downfield and that’s what opened things up for the State passing attack in the second. Leary finished with 303 yards passing, but on just 24 throws. The Orange also added another big loss on the defensive side of the ball, as Josh Black had his arm in a sling during the second half.
Marlowe Wax led the team with seven tackles, while Mikel Jones had a sack (and McKinley Williams and Cody Roscoe had a half-sack apiece). Duce Chestnut had two pass break-ups, but ultimately you’re seeing teams catch Syracuse’s secondary in one-on-one matchups — especially the beleaguered safeties.
So the Orange are now 5-6 on the season, and it’s easy to see how we got here. The offense is predictable and can’t throw the ball with any consistency. They also refuse to give the ball to Tucker enough, either, yet act like something else dictates as much (Dino Babers even said at the half that they had to get Tucker the ball, which is odd considering he’s the one most responsible for whether that happens).
Whether they can fix issues on both sides of the ball or not, they’ll face Pitt next week with bowl hopes on the line. We’ll see if they can make something happen in what could be the season finale.