As SU football’s 2021 season winds down, the Orange have dealt with two consecutive blowouts at the hands of conference opponents. Yesterday’s matchup was a little closer than the last, but ‘Cuse still fell hard at NC State. Let’s take a look at some reasons why.
Of all the culprits for yesterday’s loss, Syracuse’s rush defense was actually not one of them. In fact, the Orange rank 4th best in the ACC against the run. SU is giving up just 128 yards per game on the ground and 3.5 yards-per-carry. That’s right in line with what they gave up against the Wolfpack: 30 carries for 96 yards, an average of 3.2 yards per tote.
It’s not the first time the Syracuse rush defense has played stout in defeat this season, either. Saturday’s game marked the fifth time this year the Orange held an opponent to 3.2 or fewer yards-per-carry in a game. In four of those games, SU held its opponent to under 3.0. However, ‘Cuse is just 2-3 in those games this season including this Saturday’s loss. Syracuse did it in wins against UAlbany and BC and in losses against Rutgers, Wake Forest, and NC State.
Syracuse’s offense did not fare nearly as well, and it wasn’t any fault of Sean Tucker’s – the freshman back finally eclipsed SU’s single-season rushing record on Saturday during a 105-yard day. Unfortunately, Tucker couldn’t simultaneously run and pass the ball.
Quarterback Garrett Shrader’s ugly day (8/20, 63 yards, no touchdowns and a pick-six) can’t be sugarcoated. For the second straight week, SU’s offensive line got shoved around in pass protection while an opposing defense keyed on ‘Cuse’s option game. Shrader’s resultant struggles marked just the fourth time since 2000 that an SU passer threw 20 or more times and finished with 63 or fewer yards in a game. All four times, Syracuse lost.
It’s a short list that brings up some bad memories. Unsurprisingly, infamous former head coach Greg Robinson saw his quarterbacks pull the feat off twice. Andrew Robinson supplied the clinker in 2007 against UConn, while Cameron Dantley did it a year later against Cincinnati. Five years later, Terrell Hunt had perhaps the worst game of the bunch with an 8-24, three interception performance against Clemson. Shrader’s outing yesterday rounds out this dismal group. It’s tough to win when you pass that poorly, and SU has yet to do so in the 21st century.
Finally, it was hard to see Syracuse winning when they allowed a three-dimensional explosion against the Wolfpack towards the end of the second half. In just 6:14 of gametime, NC State scored twice on offense (once via pass, once via run), once on defense on a pick six, and on special teams via a Zonovan Knight kickoff return. Naturally, it’s incredibly hard to win when you give up four touchdowns in six minutes. It’s just a rare thing to see it done four different ways in a game, much less in a single quarter.
Since 2000, Saturday was just the fourth game SU has had where they allowed a rushing touchdown, a passing touchdown, and a kick return touchdown in the same game. ‘Cuse is predictably 0-4 in those games. Strangely, three of them happened in November matchups.
The first time was in a season-ending 56-31 boatracing against UConn in 2009, where SU fell to 4-8 under first-year head coach Doug Marrone. Five years later, the 3-9 Orange pulled it off again in another season finale in a 28-7 snoozer against Boston College. The third such game came in 2016, when Eric Dungey and company couldn’t keep up with No. 18 Notre Dame and quarterback DeShone Kizer in a 50-33 defeat. Fast forward to yesterday for instance No. 4, and it’s easy to see how quickly the Orange got behind the eight ball.