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Syracuse 32, Purdue 29: Oronde Gadsden completes second-half comeback.

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

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The Syracuse Orange started out very slow against the Purdue Boilermakers but they got things going in the second half. Cleaner offensive progressions and increased defensive pressure brought Syracuse back into the game. A combined 42 points scored in the fourth quarter saw the Orange barely come out alive with a 32-29 victory.

Syracuse started with the ball to begin the game, but the offense went 3-and-out as Garrett Shrader overthrew Sean Tucker on two outside throws. Purdue put together a solid opening drive that included a number of medium gains between 7-9 yards on passes against soft coverage. However, the Boilermakers fell short in the redzone as a 4th and 3 rush was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

Syracuse’s second drive looked better, buoyed by some nice Shrader and Tucker runs and a Purdue pass interference call. The drive also featured the first Robert Anae trick play of the season: a double reverse throw from LeQuint Allen intended for Shrader. However, Allen just over the Orange QB for a play that would have almost assuredly put Syracuse in the red zone. The Orange settled for a 50-yard field goal from Andre Szmyt to put the first points on the board.

Purdue responded with a touchdown drive that ended in a rushing touchdown. The Syracuse defense was once again playing softer zone coverage that gave the Boilermakers a lot of comfortable passes for Aiden O’Connell to complete. The Orange also blocked the extra point to make it a 6-3 game after the first quarter.

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

Syracuse tried to respond with a long drive of their own, but the stout Purdue run defense continued to pose problems for the Orange. Tucker and Shrader couldn’t consistently get past the defensive line to pick up at least four or five yards like the first two weeks of the season.

Purdue continued to string together good offensive drives with short-to-mid passes. One thing that became apparent to Purdue’s success was that O’Connell was not getting pressured to throw. The young Syracuse defensive line didn’t force a quickened throw until the latter half of the drive. Luckily the Boilermakers only got a field goal to make it a 9-3 game halfway through the second quarter.

However, the Syracuse offense continued to show up as a shell of itself compared to the previous two weeks. First, a good looking drive that featured mainly rushes from Tucker and Shrader stalled out when a high snap forced a rush and missed field goal from Szmyt. Then, a two-minute drill that featured no Tucker and almost exclusively passing plays looked flat.

The upside is that the Syracuse defense adjusted with more pressure applied to O’Connell. The linebackers started to get more involved and forced the Purdue QB to miss throws he was making earlier in the game. The Orange also took advantage of a weakened Purdue rushing attack that started to struggle in supporting O’Connell when the pressure came. Purdue took the 9-3 lead into the half.

After a couple of lackluster drives from both teams, the Orange offense started to come alive with receivers now giving Shrader a quick option he could hit. Shrader held onto the ball a lot during the first half, though it wasn’t clear if receivers weren’t getting open or if Shrader was working through his progressions slowly. Syracuse got help from a late hit out of bounds and a defensive holding call that brought back an interception. Shrader took the opportunity to hit Isaiah Jones on a goal-line fade to give Cuse a 10-9 lead towards the end of the third.

Purdue found its tempo in the fourth thanks to Syracuse’s zone coverage. The Boilermakers routinely found the soft spots in the zone and consistently moved the chains. Purdue also got the benefit of a penalty to extend the drive as Steve Linton lined up offside on a sack. O’Connell hit Payne Durham in the back of the endzone off zone coverage to give Purdue the lead. O’Connell couldn’t hit Jones on the two-point conversion to keep it a 15-10 lead.

The Orange went back to the rush to find success on the next drive. A couple of Shrader options and a great Tucker cut brought Syracuse to midfield, where they faced a 4th-and-1. Shrader found Oronde Gadsden on a crossing route and he tiptoed down the sideline to sneak into the endzone on a huge juice score. Shrader kept the ball on a two-point conversion to give Syracuse a 18-15 lead.

Then the juice play happened. Jatius Geer and Derek McDonald got into the backfield on the first play from scrimmage after the score and O’Connell tried to throw the ball away to avoid the sack. However, the ball went right into the hands of Caleb Okechukwu who took it back for a pick six. Syracuse led 25-15.

And the game didn’t settle from there. Only a few plays later, Charlie Jones just beat out Garrett Williams down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown on a beautiful over-the-top ball from O’Connell. Purdue cut the deficit to 25-22.

After the offense couldn’t get a long drive started, Purdue marched down the field after another big completion to Jones. However, Purdue’s kicker Mitchell Fineran missed a 41-yard field goal wide right with 2:53 to play in the 4th.

The offense once again couldn’t string together a drive and Purdue got the ball back at their 44 with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter. And once again, Durham found the soft spot in the zone coverage to put Purdue ahead of Syracuse 29-25.

And then the Purdue penalties came. First two unsportsmanlike conduct calls forced the Boilermakers to take the kickoff from the 10-yard line. That set up the Orange to start from the 50 yard line with 45 seconds left. Then a defensive holding and pass interference call set up the Orange at the 25. Shrader found Gadsden on a corner route and the accuracy was there on the lob to win the game for Syracuse.

And Syracuse now moves to 3-0 on the season. Well how about that?