Didn’t expect this one to be this close, huh?
The Syracuse Orange barely scraped past the Virginia Cavaliers to win a Friday night primetime game 22-20. The Orange now sit at 4-0 on the season, though the road to get here has been anything but conventional.
That remains true for this game. Let’s go through the grades now, shall we?
Quietly, Garrett Shrader had 277 yards on 22-33 passing. If this was last season’s team, you’d take those numbers in a heartbeat. Even now, you’d still accept those numbers from a quarterback that had accuracy concerns coming into the 2022 campaign. However, it was far from a perfect performance from Syracuse’s signal caller.
The chief problem that stood out was Shrader’s red zone decision making, which bled into other questionable decisions in the passing game. He seemed to lock onto receivers at times and force the ball to his first read, which resulted in either a missed outside pass, a batted ball or an interception.
Secondly, this was easily Shrader’s worst run game of the year. Taking away the sack yardage, Shrader rushed eight times for 39 gained yards. His running balanced out the offense against Purdue to keep Syracuse in it. However, he was not as successful this week, although that might not have been entirely his fault. But along the same lines, Shrader’s out-of-pocket decision making also still needs work heading into the middle of the season.
Running Backs: C+
Another rough game for Sean Tucker, but much like last week, a game that wasn’t entirely his fault. However, the Orange returned to a formula that they found success for Tucker - passing the ball to him. Tucker routinely ran smart routes to get himself open and Syracuse fans know what he can do in open space. But Syracuse’s offense needs balance, and the lack of a running game has made the past two games a lot closer than they could have been.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B-
We’re gonna need a separate grade for Oronde Gadsden at some point. Because he gets an A, while everyone else gets a C-.
We saw a bit more involvement from the other receivers, but it seems like that anyone not named Gadsden didn’t do Shrader any favors in getting quick enough separation from their defenders. Syracuse desperately needs someone to step up and be another option for Shrader, otherwise it’ll be really easy to gameplan against the Orange. One place that could help is for the coaching staff to flip how they ran Damien Alford and Devaughn Cooper in this game. Cooper ran a lot of out routes while Alford worked primarily in the middle of the field. If those two guys flip in their route running, it should play into their strengths more.
Offensive Line: F
The run blocking was once again atrocious, but this time the pass defense started to fail as well. There is no reason a quarterback should be sacked six times. Holding and false start penalties started to show up again. That was… not good.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line has to get a lot of credit for generating pressure in the pass rush, as that’s not their primary goal. Jatius Geer has been an excellent revelation and Caleb Okechukwu continues to be a consistent threat. However, the run defense hasn’t been great. It was fine in the first half, but when Terry Locket went down with injury, Virginia started breaking out longer runs to generate offensive momentum. Hopefully the interior can hold up throughout the season so that the first point of contact for opposing runners isn’t Mikel Jones four yards down the field.
Not having your two top strongside linebackers is never an ideal thing, but Anwar Sparrow and Leon Lowery did a great job performing in place of the injured Stefon Thompson and Derek McDonald. However, all the attention goes to Mikel Jones and Marlowe Wax. The two are the Zaire Franklin and Paris Bennett of this team. Releasing Jones and Wax into the pass rush should strike fear into Syracuse’s remaining opponents.
Defensive Backs: A
I get it, Brennan Armstrong has regressed somewhat from his record-setting season last year. However, he’s still Brennan Armstrong. That means your secondary has to be stout to limit his effectiveness to 19-38 passing for 138 yards. I doubt many people predicted Syracuse to hold the Virginia QB to that line. Garrett Williams deserved the Mob game ball and the rest of the defensive backs limited any of Virginia receivers from catching many balls 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. An excellent effort from the secondary.
Special Teams: A-
It’s amazing what a special teams coach can do. I wouldn’t be surprised if Szmyt missed some of those field goals last season, just mainly due to the fact of a lack of oversight of the unit. A point off for Trebor Pena’s fumble, but the kicking and punting has been solid and consistent all year. Maybe Syracuse is slowly working its way back to Special Teams U.
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