A late-first half interception by Garrett Shrader had us Syracuse Orange fans holding our breath after two quarters and a 10-3 deficit — the Army Black Knights controlled all the momentum and tempo up to that point.
Coach Dino Babers and the Orange entered Saturday’s game in search of a 4-0 start to the season and the program’s first non-conference sweep since becoming a non-independent team in 1991. Army came out fighting, maintaining possession on offense for 18 first-half minutes while establishing its post slow-pace, run-heavy offense.
But through adjustments on both sides of the ball, Syracuse scored 26 unanswered points to kick off the second half en route to a 29-16 victory, giving the Orange a second straight 4-0 start to a season in a historic day for the program.
With lots to discuss, let’s hop right intro the three takeaways from Saturday afternoon’s win over the Army:
Have no fear, The Mob is (still) here
Plenty of the game’s live discussion centered on the Orange’s defense — the Black Knights had all the running room in the world after controlling roughly 75% of the time of possession in the first half.
Syracuse faced its tallest task up to this point in the season — the 3-3-5 scheme taking on Army’s run-dominant, physically-imposing offensive line and running back combo.
But give credit where it’s due to Rocky Long and the defense’s second-half adjustments. Syracuse gave up 33 rushes for 129 yards in the first half; it forced Army into 13 rushes for 4 yards the rest of the way. Interceptions by Jaeden Gould and Justin Barron coupled with better pressure from the defensive line proved that this Syracuse defense is special.
Syracuse entered Saturday’s game with one of the best defensive units in the NCAA, and will stay that way heading into next weekend.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Shrader
By the numbers, there was a clear difference between Shrader’s performance in the first and second half.
Part of that was due to Army’s slow-tempo disrupting any chance at getting momentum or giving Syracuse a chance to get going on offense. But, some early bad reads by Shrader along with too many high-risk plays held the Orange to just three points in the first half.
The inconsistency bore out on the stat sheet: Shrader finished the first half with seven completions for 62 yards and an interception.
Shrader ended up going 21/26 for 245 yards and a touchdown in the air plus 10 rushes for 60 yards and another touchdown.
Luckily, Shrader bounced back once the Orange adjusted to Army’s defense. The ball found its way to receivers in the flats and short field. The slant routes forced the Black Knights to press more, leading to more open space for big-time performances from LeQuint Allen (20 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown, three catches for 23 yards) and Damian Alford (9 catches for 135 yards, 15 yards per catch).
Alford’s emergence amid Oronde Gadsden’s absence and Allen living up to his preseason potential are great signs to take away. But the Army game also demonstrated the importance of Shrader being consistent offensively, especially as Syracuse soon faces some elite ACC defenses.
Here we go again...
As the TNIAAM crew has discussed before, the Orange have entered the gauntlet part of this year’s schedule: back-to-back-to-back matchups versus Clemson, #17 North Carolina and #4 Florida State.
How last season played out still looms in the back of our minds: a tremendous start turning into a disastrous finish. The common denominator: the Clemson game sandwiched right in the middle of the 2022 schedule.
Syracuse has played Clemson close the past few years, and this obviously isn’t the elite of the elite Tigers’ teams we’re used to under Dabo Swinney. The circumstances sound pretty promising — an undefeated Syracuse team versus now 2-2 Clemson.
Some promising games lie over the scary road ahead with matchups against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Boston College. But yet again, the outlook for the rest of this season lies with what happens the rest of October.
Mark your calendars for next Saturday.
Now it’s your turn: what did you takeaway from the Orange’s 29-16 win versus Army?