This was the first time that the Syracuse Orange have opened the season at home against an ACC opponent in the Louisville Cardinals. They actually opened the game as a five point underdog. They left the Dome as victors for the first time on the year in statement fashion, with a 31-7 victory.
The first touch of the year of course went to Sean Tucker for a four yard gain. Garrett Shrader led the offense on a mixed offensive set that included some designed runs, some quick passes and a nice scramble. Oronde Gadsden grabbed a nice sideline completion bringing the Orange into field goal range, capped off with Andre Szmyt’s first field goal on the season.
Early in the game we got a lot more passing, and it’s of note that Shrader’s mechanics seem overall more solid on the year and his throwing motion is definitely tweaked, all for the better. The first quarter also showed why Sean Tucker is as good as he is, highlight being a 55-yard touchdown pass to the running back on a nice motion tunnel screen. Tucker made one man miss and was off to the races bringing the game to 10-0. He kept things up for the half before going down with injury, entering the half with 80 yards receiving and 34 rushing (fitting) along with a pair of touchdowns.
The defense showed a good bit of growth, specifically in the open field tackling department. Ja’Had Carter made his presence known, with a prime stop to bring up a Cards third down off of a nice play to the flats, but Louisville converted, ultimately riding a Tiyon Evans rush to bring the score within three, 10-7. Tucker’s rushing touchdown brought it to 17-7 before the half.
Garrett Williams was able to force the first turnover on the year, reading a deep ball by Cunningham and coming out of nowhere for the interception in the end zone. Derek McDonald, on for the injured Marlowe Wax forced the second, with a pick across the middle and nice return to set up Oronde Gadsden’s 8-yard touchdown catch on some nice double motion to put the Orange up 24-7.
The next series Steve Linton got to Malik Cunningham and forced a huge fumble on the Louisville 25 yard line, giving the Orange a short field to work with. They took advantage of the position and Garrett Shrader walked the ball into the end zone to further the score line to 31-7, the first time the Orange have put 30+ on the board since last year’s Virginia Tech game.
Shrader finished the game 18 of 25 for 237 yards with a vastly improved passing game. He added 95 on the ground and a touchdown. Tucker led both rushers and receivers with 85 yards on six catches and the touchdown in the air. He added 98 on the ground and a score as well. Major development as well, there were multiple tight ends that caught passes (Gadsden and Max Mang).
Seeing Cunningham relatively contained (152 yards in the air, 34 on the ground) was impressive and the scheme that Tony White brought to the table today was as effective as you can ask for against that talent. Marlowe Wax finished the game with 10 tackles (2.5 for a loss), Williams with 9 and Mikel Jones with 8 and a statement sack late in the game on Cunningham. Linton had a sneaky 6 tackles with 2 for a loss, one sack and the forced fumble/recovery.
Bob Ligashesky made his presence known today with some solid changes in coverage and general special teams play that gave the Orange the benefit solid field position. Max Von Marburg got the nod at punter and averaged 41.3 per punt on only three attempts. He switched the field successfully a few times. Andre Szmyt also knocked home a 31-yard attempt and all four of his extra points.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the Orange on the day though. Penalties repeatedly set the Orange back and first and fifteen or twenty wasn’t a single occurrence. A total of 18 for 107 yards isn’t the best look. The offensive line had some real issues with false starts this game, assumedly due to the heavy use of pre-snap motion that they’re not used to at all, especially in this sort of live situation. It isn’t just one lineman, it was almost everyone across the board, including other position groups. I’ll chalk it up to learning new systems, but it’s something that has to be cleaned up.
Also, unfortunately of note, Chris Elmore also went down during the first half with a lower body injury. He was on crutches on his way to the locker room and returned to the field in sweats in the second half. More to come on that as the week progresses, but you can't help but feel for Rhino at this point.
We didn't really know what we were in for going into this game and we probably know slightly more now. There’s a lot of season left, but this seemed to be a promising start to 2022.