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Final score: Syracuse 24, Liberty 21

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Oh.

(photo credit: Jack Wallace)

The Syracuse Orange put together an interesting first half against the Liberty Flames, but there were questions even with a 14-7 lead. Things were looking up when the Orange made a stop coming out of the half and then punched in a touchdown to extend the lead to 21-7 in the third quarter.

And then the rest of the game happened. And Syracuse miraculously pulled off 24-21 win (an upset according to Vegas, but obviously the narrative would never support that).

The game was defined in large part by the surprising decision to start Garrett Shrader at quarterback over Tommy DeVito. And while Shrader contributed two rushing touchdowns on the ground, you also saw a lack of polish in other areas — specifically downfield throws. Shrader was 6-for-15 for 77 yards through the air, and like last week, it definitely felt like he was just a bit off on throws to moving receivers.

So while Shrader punched in a couple, it was Sean Tucker that really controlled things for Syracuse and put the Orange out in front through the first two-plus quarters. Tucker had 174 rushing yards on 29 carries, plus a 27-yard touchdown in there. While Shrader made a couple plays with his legs and through the air early on, it was Tucker setting the tempo for a dominant Orange run game.

Third quarter offensive struggles after SU gained the 21-7 lead, though, gave way to some emerging problems within the Orange secondary. After bottling up Liberty’s Malik Willis for much of the two and a half quarters (including five sacks), his mobility finally got the best of SU... repeatedly.

He also found ways to just catch Garret Williams and Duce Chestnut just a little off-balance on the outside as the game wore on. A few downfield throws, some double moves by receivers, and Willis was able to march the Flames back from down 21-7 to tied at 21 in short order.

Syracuse’s defense actually recovered well inside the 10-yard line to stop Liberty on fourth down to keep the game knotted. But then another drive stalled out closer to midfield after a shotgun snap on third-and-1 led to a pass behind the line for Taj Harris that was sniffed out with a quickness.

The Orange got another chance, however, after Mikel Jones forced a fumble on a Willis hit. ‘Cuse took over on Liberty’s side of the field, and then finally just handed the ball to Tucker to get themselves in scoring range. Shrader, to his credit, wound up running it up the middle to secure an easier field goal for Andre Szmyt. And the former Lou Groza Award winner knocked home a field goal to snag the 24-21 victory for SU.

So... that was weird and interesting and I don’t know what to think about what just transpired. But, a win is a win. And the Orange have avenged last year’s loss to somehow get to 3-1 on the season. Enjoy this, if only because it’s a win and a win over Liberty. More recap coming after this.