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SU’s Rough Week Has The Program At a Crossroads

Credit Dennis Nett/Courtesy Syracuse.com

Nobody in Syracuse should underestimate how quickly things can change in a week. Just seven days ago, everyone was walking around in balmy 70-degree weather and getting amped up after SU football took down an undefeated Liberty squad. This week, we’re all putting on sweatshirts and dealing with the ever-charming pelting Autumn rain that Central New York surprises us with every year. 

Plus, the Orange spectacularly blew a winnable football game against a winless Florida State squad. That certainly makes the rain all that much colder.

The sting of whiffing on a “gimme” game is an unfamiliar one to this program in recent times. It’s arguably the first time Syracuse totally disappointed in a game they were expected to win since the 2019 season. That year, a 63-20 catastrophe against a bad Maryland team cost Syracuse its first-ever College Gameday. That was the last game the Orange were ranked (they entered at No. 21) or had any kind of reasonable expectations placed on them.

Fast forward to this week, and Vegas had tabbed 0-4 Florida State as 5.5-point favorites last Saturday. Maybe we all should’ve known better. All seven of our Fizz writers didn’t, and unanimously picked Syracuse to win. Now SU is 3-2 and is faced with more questions than answers. No matter how ‘Cuse finishes the year, this loss will pop up. They could’ve and should’ve at least had one more win than whatever they end up with.

Dino Babers finally seems to have settled on his quarterback in Garrett Shrader, whose stats against the ‘Noles might trick you. The Orange still can’t throw the football very well, and that’s a bad problem to have – especially when you only lead for 1:57 of gametime in a contest, as SU did Saturday. Shrader’s 150 passing yards might seem fine, but it felt lacking against what is hands-down the ACC’s worst pass defense. Meanwhile, Shrader’s success on the ground (137 yards, three scores) was undeniably positive, but it can’t disguise other big issues SU now has to face.

Running back Sean Tucker’s 102 yards was a surprisingly high total for anyone who watched him labor against a prepared-looking and energized FSU front. Meanwhile, junior wideout Taj Harris didn’t make the trip to Tallahassee for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear. Less than 24 hours later, he announced his intention to enter the transfer portal. Make no mistake: this is a big loss. Barring his return, underclassmen Courtney Jackson and Anthony Queeley are now leading the receiving corps of Dino Babers’ run-first, pass-rarely offense. Not to worry you, but the Orange went a combined 2-15 on third and fourth downs on Saturday without Harris in the slot. 

That’s just on the offensive side. Syracuse’s defense played by far its worst game of the year Saturday, looking suspiciously prepared for one of Florida State’s two quarterbacks (McKenzie Milton, who played zero downs) and not the other (surprise starter Jordan Travis, who racked up 244 total yards). Linebacker Marlowe Wax had a solid 10-tackle day, but the one stop he didn’t make on Travis’ 33-yard run into Syracuse territory with under a minute left in the game shouldn’t be glossed over. Neither should the uncalled holding penalty on Wax that occurred later in the drive. Both negatives were symptoms of a hard-luck, lethargic day that affected the entire SU defense. Maybe the cause was the Tallahassee heat, or maybe it was just a Florida State team that wanted it a little more. 

In any event, the Orange are 3-2 and still likely a game or two better than where most people expected them to be. However, undefeated Wake Forest comes to the Dome this week in an important game for Syracuse. After such a brutal loss, instilling confidence will be difficult. Especially without a talented player in Taj Harris. These types of spots are where good coaches earn their money. Syracuse’s results down the stretch may ultimately make the difference in what kind of offseason Dino Babers has.

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The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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