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Four Takeways from Syracuse’s 24-21 win over the Liberty Flames

What did we learn on a Friday night in Central New York?

NCAA Football: Liberty at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, it was ulcer inducing, but it was ultimately a winning night for the Syracuse Orange as they avenged last year’s tire fire and defeated the Liberty Flames 24-21 on the back of defense and Sean Tucker. What did we take away from the win?

Syracuse is essentially an option team

When Garret Shrader came out as the starter and missed a wide open Damian Alford on the opening play, it signaled to everyone that Syracuse wasn’t winning this game through the air. Shrader struggled all night to throw the ball downfield, and when he did make a good throw, a variety of receivers dropped the ball, literally. Credit to offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, who decided to keep the ball mostly on the ground with a shotgun based option attack that asked Shrader to make basic reads and easy throws.

This offense showed it’s limitations heading into the second half when the Orange couldn’t really move the ball in chunks needed to run an effective two minute drill offense, and most of the passed ended up being dump offs and screens. Complicating things further was the absolutely horrific line play, that was topped with mostly terrible exchanges between Aaron Servais and Shrader. Even with all of that hedging, it mostly worked because...

Sean Tucker is damn good

Look, I don’t know what can be said that hasn’t been said already. This kid can make a cut at the line of scrimmage to daylight that mitigates the offensive line issues, and he’s able to get to the second level almost every play that the line doesn’t get blown up. Early on, Tucker was literally the only positive thing about the Orange offense until Shrader settled in running the option game, and even after that point, Tucker was fed consistently because the sophomore produced positive gains. He finished with 31 carries and 168 yards, and the 44 conversations are only going to continue with performances like these.

The defense is a different beast... when used regularly

We knew last year’s defense was better than the numbers indicated, due to the above average usage as the offense perfected the art of the three and out. Against the Flames, the Orange showed that when the offense gives the defense a chance to catch their breath, they can be incredibly effective, even against top talent like Malik Willis. Willis was sacked 6 times, and held to 255 total yards on the night. While he still made his presence known, the Orange defense frustrated him enough to keep him at bay.

We saw the flip side of this at the end of the third quarter. After Willis drove the Flames down the field for a touchdown to cut the Orange lead to 7, a quick three and out put the Orange back on the field quickly, where Liberty promptly drove into Syracuse territory, and after a questionable no call on pass interference, Willis took advantage of a Duece Chestnut freshman mistake to tie the game at 21.

Their goal line stop and late forced fumble are the reasons Syracuse won this game, and we should really be giving Tony White and this unit all the credit for the Orange’s bowl hopes surviving this long.

There’s still a lot of questions to be answered with this team

Here’s a few I have:

  • Is Tommy DeVito in the coaching staff’s plans? If so, how the hell are they managing that situation?
  • How will the offense adapt if they really are going to be option based for the rest of the season?
  • Does the return of Luke Benson and Chris Elmore later in the season impact any of these offensive plans?

Basically, the offense is a mess. Shrader can’t throw the ball downfield, and Liberty was slow to adapt to this, but future opponents won’t be, especially if they know the ball is going to Tucker and the offensive line continues to struggle. But somehow, a 3-1 Orange team gets to work through these issues in a weak ACC, halfway to bowl eligibility.