Of the three wins Syracuse now has in 2021, this past Friday’s stunner over Liberty is certainly the most impressive for Dino Babers. Let’s take a look at a few numbers to figure out how the Orange pulled it off.
It might be a fairly straightforward number, but SU’s zero turnovers in the game were as big a reason they won as any. It’s no coincidence the Orange have looked their best this year in games when they haven’t turned it over – they had no giveaways on opening day against Ohio, either.
Last year, holding onto the football didn’t always translate to success. Syracuse had just two games in 2020 with no giveaways: Week 4 against Duke and the second-to-last game of the year against NC State. SU ended up losing both those games at home. Football is a funny game sometimes.
On the surface, freshman running back Sean Tucker’s 5.3 yards per carry against Liberty looks like a simple testament to his ability as a back. It’s that and more. Tucker looked exceptional again on Friday, carrying a career-high 32 times for 169 yards and a touchdown. However, his consistency and Energizer Bunny-esque evening helped Syracuse control the ball and open up more on the ground for starting quarterback Garrett Shrader. More on him in a moment.
However, Tucker’s day did a little more than just carry the Orange. His efforts this season have been eye-popping: Tucker already has twice as many touchdowns as he did all of last year including seven rushing scores, and he’s just 90 yards away from matching his already impressive total last year as a first-year player.
The Maryland native is also averaging almost two full yards per carry more this year (6.5) than he did last year (4.6). Not bad for a guy who’s gone from starting 2020 fourth on the RB depth chart behind Abdul Adams, Jarveon Howard, and Jawhar Jordan to catapulting into unofficial Heisman conversations. With the worst FSU team in generations coming up next week and Clemson looking suddenly vulnerable, Syracuse should feel good about its chances in the next few weeks for an unthinkable bowl season. If they get there, it’ll be mostly thanks to Tucker.
If there was one blemish on Friday night’s win, it was the overall ineffectiveness of Syracuse’s passing game. Dino Babers rolled the dice on transfer quarterback Garrett Shrader by giving him his first start of the year, and Shrader was a mixed bag to be kind. The Charlotte, NC native finished 6/15 passing for just 77 yards and no touchdowns.
Shrader’s 77 passing yards marked the first time in 2,127 days – just under six years – since Syracuse won a game in which they threw for fewer than 100 yards. The last time was on November 28th, 2015 in a 20-17 season-finale win over Boston College. That day, Syracuse QB Zack Mahoney finished 12-26 for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Although Shrader didn’t throw an interception and did rush for two scores, the passing game was shaky all night long. Next week’s game against FSU is a great chance for SU to score another win, so be on the lookout for where Babers goes with his man under center. It may ultimately make the difference as to whether Syracuse goes bowling this year or not.