Boy it wasn’t pretty, but somehow Syracuse got it done.
A slow start for the Syracuse Orange eventually turned into a nail-biting win as ‘Cuse toppled the Purdue Boilermakers 32-29 at the JMA Wireless Dome this past weekend. The Orange are 3-0 and preseason bowl hopes have gone from optimistic to likely.
But that doesn’t mean Syracuse played the cleanest game. Let’s break out the report card:
The first two and a half quarters from Garrett Shrader featured a sharp regression to the mean. Overthrows and underthrows ruined some good opportunities for the Orange to gain momentum. Whether it was a lack of receiver talent or a slow read of progressions, Shrader didn’t get rid of the ball quickly in the first half.
But two things keep this grade from fully tanking. First, Shrader did an excellent job throughout the game extending drives with his legs. The heavy focus from the Purdue defense to stop Sean Tucker played perfectly into Shrader’s mobility. Secondly, the last one and a half quarters from Shrader featured great improvement from the first part of the game. The Orange adjusted to Purdue’s man-to-man, allowing Shrader to get rid of the ball quicker. He started hitting passes, including what might be the pass of the season on the corner route to Oronde Gadsden II for the game-winning score.
Eventually Shrader got the job done. But it wasn’t looking good to start.
Running Backs: C
I don’t know how much of this game you can put on Tucker. But you can’t get a great grade with only 42 net yards on 18 rushes.
However, once again, there were two things, perhaps out of Tucker’s control, that prevented him being pleased with his performance. First, as I mentioned above, Purdue did a great job game-planning for Tucker by forcing a lot of contact before or at the line of scrimmage. Secondly, Tucker did not get any favors from his offensive line.
That being said, Tucker didn’t develop the yards after first contact that makes him such a scary running back in traffic. The holes weren’t there to show off the track speed, but the fight to gain extra yards wasn’t present, whether that was Tucker’s fault or a feather in the cap of the Purdue defensive line. It’s hard to remember Tucker having a tougher game in an Orange uniform.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
Oronde Gadsden gets an A. If he’s not among this group, this grade is a D.
I’m leaning towards Shrader’s slow releases in the first half being caused by the receivers not getting open. It took reportedly NFL-level adjustments from the coaching staff to get the receivers some breathing room against the man-to-man defense. Gadsden was the only guy who seemed to be open all the time, a large credit to the motion he’s almost always on before a play.
The bright side is that Syracuse might have that number one receiver it has been looking for since Trishton Jackson. The dark side is that there isn’t much support behind that number one. Gadsden had six catches. All other receivers combined for five, not including Sean Tucker getting two. Syracuse needs more from the supporting cast.
Offensive Line: D
We like to think Sean Tucker can do it himself. But every running back needs the support of his offensive line to succeed. The Orange offensive line did not do that job on Saturday. Little to no push against the Purdue defensive line forced early contact on run plays and quick collapsed pockets on pass plays. Steve will have more on the big guys, but that wasn’t pretty.
At least the flags from week one are not there.
Defensive Line: C-
Aiden O’Connell had all day to throw for 95% of his plays. And while Syracuse got lucky on the 5% that he didn’t (see Caleb Okechukwu pick-six), that’s not a healthy way to win games. This defensive line isn’t demanding enough attention for opposing offensive lines to ignore Mikel Jones and Marlowe Wax.
Again, not much needs to be said here. I hate to use a Dino-ism here, but this was a case of occasionally great and not consistently good. While the former feels great, I think Babers would have liked the latter to lower his heart rate throughout the game.
The linebackers are great pass rushing. There’s no issue there, as a lot of the second half pressure came from your typical subjects. But if Syracuse is going to continue to play zone defense in coverage, the linebackers have to get better there. Payne Durham had his way in the middle of the field, just sitting in the soft spots of the zone to pick up free eight-to-ten yard gains. Zone doesn’t look like its leaving anytime soon, so Tony White has to get these guys into shape.
Defensive Backs: B
Same issue, the zone coverage was pretty soft. I’m not sure if it was a coaching or individual decision, but the defensive backs not pressing at the line of scrimmage irked me to no end. However, O’Connell didn’t find much success past Charlie Jones and Durham. The secondary did a good job taking away the other options and forced O’Connell to make great throws to get yards and scores.
That’s one of the games where you have to put your hands up to the receivers, but other than those blips, it wasn’t the worst day.
Special teams: A-
A point off for the high snap on the Andre Szmyt 41-yard field goal attempt and the near botch on the punt return by Braylen Oliver. We talked about it on Troy Nunes is an Absolute Podcast, but it’s unfair to opponents to have multiple defensive starters on special teams. Syracuse’s special teams and discipline were a big reason the Orange won this game.
Shoutout to Bob Ligashesky. Turns out having a special teams coach makes a difference (bonus if he doesn’t yell at the refs).
Now it’s your turn. How would you grade the Orange after a weird Purdue win? Sound off in the comments below.