You can only survive shooting yourself in the foot so many times.
A mixture of penalties, lack of preparation, and bad play calling meant that Syracuse Orange couldn’t establish any offensive momentum against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The SU defense could only do so much as Rutgers won 17-7 on Saturday.
Penalties killed off numerous Orange offensive drives and pushed special teams backwards. Syracuse was called for at least three illegal formation calls on both offense and special teams to stifle any momentum gained. In the end, Syracuse was whistled for eight penalties, costing the Orange 55 yards.
Head coach Dino Babers was understandably frustrated after the game, lamenting the offensive and special teams mistakes that cost the Orange the game.
“I think the kicking game maybe cost us as much as the offense not scoring enough points,” said Babers.
The biggest disparity in the offense came in the running game. After rushing for 283 yards against Ohio, Syracuse only managed 67 rushing yards against Rutgers. Sean Tucker stopped receiving carries after his 24-yard touchdown with 5:57 left in the 3rd quarter. Likewise, the RPO that Tommy DeVito ran so well during the Ohio game was virtually nonexistent against the Scarlet Knights.
“They kind of expected what was going to come in a sense,” said DeVito.
The passing game couldn’t support the lack of running that the Syracuse coaching staff switched to. DeVito went 15-26 for 149, but take away Taj Harris’ 51-yard reception and his numbers go down to 14-25 for 98 yards.
Part of that reasoning for DeVito’s struggles could be the change at quarterback Syracuse made in the second quarter. Garrett Shrader played the last three offensive possessions of the first half, and went 4-6 for 42 yards. His first two possessions were not impressive, but his third and final drive showed a small bit of promise.
Coach Babers confirmed that the quarterback switch was planned heading into the game. Still, it was a puzzling decision given that DeVito had made all but one of his passes in the first half. The only pass DeVito missed was not his fault either: Harris dropped a wide open ball while he was streaking down the right sideline.
Not all of the passing issues were DeVito’s fault either. Sharod Johnson had multiple drops to go along with Harris’ drop. The big issue came with the play-calling. Syracuse seemingly abandoned the run after Tucker’s touchdown and Rutgers could play for the pass without much penalty. That meant DeVito’s targets were well covered and his line started to collapse as Rutgers stopped committing to the run.
Notice that the defense hasn’t been mentioned yet. That is because they did all they could do against the Scarlet Knights. Syracuse held Rutgers to 50 yards rushing and 145 yards passing. The Orange sacked Noah Vedral five times and eight players recorded a tackle for loss. Three players - Mikel Jones, Cody Roscoe and Josh Black - recorded multiple tackles for loss.
“We knew that, like a lot of Big Ten teams, that we needed to stop the run.” said Marlowe Wax on the success of Syracuse’s defense.
The man-to-man pass coverage was excellent as well. Syracuse’s lone coverage mistake came on Rutgers’ second touchdown when the zone defense sat way too softly in the middle of the field.
Not much more needs to be said about defense. The offense and special teams, as Coach Babers pointed out, need to be looked at. The run was stifled against Rutgers, but there was no reason to completely abandon it. The punt team lined up incorrectly multiple times and Trebor Pena had trouble tracking line-drive punts.
Syracuse needs to have a long, hard look at itself offensively. DeVito ran out of options in the second half and the momentum stalled after leaving points on the board in the first half. The Orange needed to capitalize on the few chances they got, and too many times a turnover or penalty ended any offensive momentum.
This looks like a defense that can hang with anyone in the ACC. The offense needs to repay that effort.