Going into the Louisville game on Saturday, not many people, including us here at the Fizz, gave Syracuse a chance to beat the Cardinals and defending Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Not after the performance the defense put forth last week versus Wake Forest. Not without Eric Dungey leading the offense. Even with those doubts in mind, I’m sure nobody expected SU to get beaten as badly as it did.
The game was an ugly loss on both sides of the ball, but let’s start with unit that looked the worst: the defense. All season long, at least up until the last two weeks, the defense had been the best and most surprising unit for the Orange. It was outperforming expectations at nearly every turn. Where the heck did that defense disappear to? On the first drive of the game alone, Louisville needed just two plays to go 75 yards for a touchdown, including the 46-yard run from Malik Williams to find the end zone.
That inability to prevent the big play reared its ugly head all day long for the Orange. Of Louisville’s eight touchdowns, seven of them came from more than 30 yards out with the eighth going for a “measly” 19 yards. The Cardinals offense simply torched SU at every single turn. Up the middle, down the sidelines, off-tackle. There wasn’t a single safe space for the Syracuse defense and when it finally did get some stops here and there, they only came as a result of Louisville miscues (errant/dropped passes, penalties, etc.) and not because the defense actually stepped up and made a stop.
The defense was simply outcoached, especially on Reggie Bonnafon’s second touchdown of the game right before halftime. Louisville was somehow able to get its uber-athlete into single coverage against a Syracuse defensive lineman and the senior took advantage, outrunning him on a wheel route to the end zone. That play came on 4th down & 7 and late-down conversions were also a serious struggle for the Orange defense. Louisville went a combined 11-for-20 on third and fourth downs in the game and you have to figure a lot of that comes from the coaching staff simply not putting the defense in good position to get a stop.
I know that Lamar Jackson was lining up on the other side of the line of scrimmage for the defense for most of the game, but that doesn’t really give them an excuse to be as unfocused, unprepared and just flat-out bad as they were.
Moving on to the other side of the ball, things don’t get much prettier when you take a look at how the offense played in this game. Once again Eric Dungey was a game-time decision and once again, he did not play a single snap. Zack Mahoney got the start for the second consecutive week, but unlike last week’s performance versus Wake, there weren’t many positives to take away this time around.
The senior completed just 33% of his passes and tossed two interceptions before he got pulled for Rex Culpepper late in the second quarter. Everything about his performance was ugly. His interceptions went over the heads of intended receivers and a few of his incompletions left the broadcasters baffled as to where he was throwing the ball. That’s when you know it’s bad.
Culpepper wasn’t much better, completing less than half of his passes and also throwing a pair of picks, including one that he threw into quadruple coverage with only one receiver anywhere near the ball.
Moe Neal was the saving grace for the SU offense, rushing for 98 yards on 19 carries. Meanwhile, Erv Philips scored the lone Syracuse touchdown of the game on an 8-yard run in the 4th quarter.
Unlike the defense, there were a couple of factors that might allow us to give the Orange attack a little bit of a break. First and foremost, this offense desperately misses Eric Dungey. He is the quarterback which the offense is built around and when he’s out of the game, it looks completely in shambles. The ball doesn’t move with the same pace. The offensive line looks more discombobulated and the skill position players just don’t get the same looks they get with Dungey at the helm. Secondly, the disastrous conditions the game was played in, which caused a 45-minute lightning delay, dampened the up-tempo offense Syracuse looks to play and made them completely unable to move the ball.
In the end, having Dungey in the game probably wouldn’t have made a difference in what the outcome was. Jackson and the Louisville offense simply overpowered the SU defense in every single facet and that wasn’t going to change with Dungey in the game. That was just an instance of being outcoached on that side of the ball. Having Dungey in the game may have resulted in a closer score at the end of the game, but when everything was said and done, the defense gave SU zero chance to put themselves in a position to get a win on Saturday.