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Under pressure comes Diamonds: Syracuse football’s defense leads the way in win over NC State

In a game that had all the markings of a “Brutal Loss,” the Orange defense held firm to achieve something great.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Syracuse Orange lost three consecutive games by a total of 9 points due to conservative decision making, self inflected mistakes on the field, and bad breaks that led to exhausted defenses in key situations. In the top 20 clash between the No. 18 Orange and the No. 15 NC State Wolfpack, those themes were front and center.

However, the magic of the families of the 44 fraternity and another 49K changed something for Syracuse, as a Sean Tucker run in the 4th quarter iced the game and an Orange 24-9 victory.

The Orange defense is the first, second, and third star of this game. Did the unit look better because of a sold out dome and a backup QB? It can’t be discounted. But after Garrett Williams left the game in the first half with a relatively serious injury, the unit held kept a lid on the Wolfpack, holding them to just 213 yards and 9 points before the final NC State drive when ‘Cuse was in prevent. Beyond the stats, they showed up in big moments:

  • Holding NC State to a three and out after the offense got a bad break on a 3rd and 1 review, 4th down false start, and muffed punt coverage that led to just a 14 yard net punt.
  • Forcing another three and out after an Orange red zone interception in the second quarter. (More on that later.)
  • Sacking Jack Chambers on 3rd and goal with 7 minutes to go in the forth to force a field goal.

But the ‘Pack’s defense did the same to the Orange, with two key exceptions. Oronde Gadsden II had a coming out game for the books. In the first half alone, Gadsden had 97 receiving yards and a touchdown. He would finish with 8 receptions for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns, as the “flex TE,” cementing himself as the number one option in the passing attack.

The issue for the Orange? There wasn’t much offense in the passing game outside of Gadsden, with just 17 receiving yards by all others. Even with some limited success running the ball, the Orange’s offense was struggling, which is probably why Dino Babers opted to kick a field goal from the State 4 on a 4th and 3, a decision I thought was far too conservative.

Going back to how last season went for the Orange, it sure felt like the Orange were on the path of a brutal loss. They were unable to get any other offensive opportunities of note, thanks to stout defense by NC State, and some bad breaks, most notably the missed neutral zone infraction that led to a Garrett Shrader pick. The fact that the game went to half 10-3 felt like both a victory and loss for both sides, a crucial checkmark for “Brutal Orange Loss (TM)”

But things felt like they took a turn in the second half, as NC State let the crowd get to them when 2nd and 2 at the Orange 12 turned into just three points after a botched snap and false start. The Orange, faced with a 4th and short set up by a holding on a Shrader TD run called back leading to a failed 3rd and 1 conversion, finally went the conversion. Shrader snuck his way to the first down, and then hit a wide open Gadsden II for a TD to stretch the ‘Cuse lead to 17-6 instead of a 13-6.

In a way only college football can exist, the 4th quarter felt like a summation of the game. NC State steadily drove down the field, using up clock, but never breaking the Orange defense and committing penalties that just drew out the clock. The crowd and the defense held the Wolfpack to a field goal, and then the Syracuse offense... well I don’t know how to describe that final drive. Stupid penalties setting up ridiculously long situations for the Orange, Shrader and Gadsden clawing some yardage back, and then a stupid, silly, Shrader broken play bailing them out.

The underlying note to this “chaos” as color commentator Matt Hasselbeck stated was the officiating, which was equally poor on both sides. Missed targeting plays went both ways (but twice on the Orange) and missing a key blocker downfield call saved the Orange’s final offensive drive. While it may feel like this was the first time the Orange have caught a break with ACC refs, the reality is that this was the first time the Orange didn’t break when the calls went against them.

Dino Babers told the ACC Network after the game that this game proved the Orange are “a familia,” and that this game brought him back to his peak at Baylor when Robert Griffin III cemented his Heisman season with a win over Oklahoma. This was a hurdle past teams have failed, with the lone exception being the 2018 9-3 Orange, who went undefeated in the Carrier Dome. The Orange are bowl eligible, which was the goal for the season. They have a chance at the ACC Atlantic Crown with their nationally televised game against Clemson next week in Death Valley. We’re not going to measure gravy anytime soon, but we should sit back and enjoy what is a record setting performance from this team, that was under immense pressure to reach a goal they achieved in just 6 games.


Oronde Gadsden - Yards and touchdowns aside, the guy was able to create separation on a variety of routes and showed a level I do not think we’ve seen from a wide out since Steve Ishmael.

Sean Tucker - 98 yards on 14 carries, with another 14 yards receiving. Came up with the biggest plays for conversions and the icing score.

Mikel “Everywhere, All At Once” Jones - 7 tackles, a huge sack on NC State’s last drive. He was involved in every play.

Jatius Geer - 5 total tackles and a key sack when the defense was reeling with injuries.

The Orange Crowd - NC State was clearly flustered most of the time on third and key downs. You do not want to play the Orange at the Dome anymore.