Syracuse football is still soaring following yesterday’s 32-29 victory over Purdue. In SU’s first win over a Big 10 opponent since 2013, the Orange showed a flair for the dramatic and never-say-die grit against a Boilermakers team that nearly defeated the ‘Cuse with a sound gameplan. Let’s examine how Syracuse pulled a dub out of the fire to move to 3-0.
A baker’s dozen is the number of penalties Purdue racked up inside the JMA Wireless Dome yesterday, and they were almost single-handedly what kept Syracuse in the game. Purdue drew its highest number of yellow flags as a team since a 2011 defeat to Notre Dame, and tied the second-highest total for the team since 2000. Only a 15-flag 2001 loss to Michigan saw the Boilermakers draw more.
In all, Purdue’s disciplinary report card is woeful:
- Two intercepted Garrett Shrader passes were nullified by penalties – one on a second quarter flea flicker, and another in the third quarter on 3rd down that extended the drive and saw Isaiah Jones catch a touchdown to put the Orange up 10-9 just three plays later.
- Four different times, a Purdue penalty on 3rd down gave Syracuse a first down.
- Purdue racked up five combined unnecessary roughness (1) and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties (4).
- On SU’s final drive, the Orange gained 50 yards – 10 yards from Purdue holding, 15 yards from defensive pass interference, and 25 yards from Oronde Gadsden’s touchdown catch.
Despite all the penalty woes, Purdue nearly pulled out a win thanks mostly to its spectacular sixth year quarterback. Aidan O’Connell looked comfortable and accurate under center, defying expectations that he’d struggle against Syracuse’s talented cornerbacks. O’Connell finished 39 of 55 pasing for 424 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
The Boilermakers have an identity as a throwing team, but Syracuse’s defense of the run was solid. No Purdue back had more than 10 carries en route to a 2.8 yards-per-carry average as a team.
It’s rare to see a quarterback throw that many times at the collegiate level, but it’s even more so to see a passer air it out that much against Syracuse. Only once since 2000 has a single quarterback thrown more passes against an SU defense than O’Connell did on Saturday: Louisville’s Brian Brohm, younger brother of current Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm, hucked the rock 65 (!) times in a 38-35 loss to Greg Robinson’s Syracuse bunch back in 2007.
Nearly half of Aiden O’Connell’s work through the air was helped by one name – wideout Charlie Jones. The sixth year to sixth year combination was merciless against the Syracuse defense. For the third time in as many games, Jones surpassed 130 receiving yards en route to 11 catches for 188 yards and a 55-yard score.
Jones’ domination through the air ended up registering as one of the finest days an individual receiver has had against Syracuse in recent history. Jones’ 188 yards are tied for 9th-most against Syracuse since 2000. The top spot belongs to former Virginia Tech wideout and current sheriff Ernest Wilford, who cooked the Orange for eight catches, 279 yards and four touchdowns back in 2002. Other recent performances include NC State’s Kelvin Harmon in 2018 (11 for 247, 2 TD in 2018) and Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge (8 for 240, 2 TD in 2018). Despite the deluge from Jones, Syracuse’s defense held on just enough to contain Purdue for most of the game.
On the Syracuse side, the Orange offense saw one of its mainstays to be conspicuously absent on Saturday. Running back Sean Tucker was not the featured attraction nor the hero against Purdue, and finished with just 42 yards on 18 troubled carries. The Boilermakers were focused on making sure Tucker wouldn’t be the on to beat them, and succeeded.
Tucker’s 42 yards marked his lowest output since last year’s season finale (29 yards against Pitt), but you have to go back to Tucker’s first year in Orange to find a less stellar game with at least 15 carries. Against NC State in 2020, SU fell at home and saw Tucker log just 18 yards on 16 carries. Yesterday’s contest was Tucker’s first game this year under 100 yards, but SU’s star back is still looking for his “boom” runs – on the year, Tucker’s longest carry is still 13 yards.