Sound the alarm: Syracuse football is 4-0 for the first time since 2018 and just the second time since 1991. SU took down Virginia 22-20 on Friday in a war of attrition inside the JMA Wireless Dome. Let‚Äôs take a look inside how the Orange pulled it off.
Without a career day from its redshirt-senior kicker, Syracuse could‚Äôve easily sunk against UVA thanks to a subpar offensive performance. Instead, Andre Szmyt‚Äôs 16 points (5-5 on field goals, 1-1 on PATs) did most of the legwork for the Orange O. SU‚Äôs all-time points leader hit from 26, 32, 28, 40, and 31 as ‚ÄòCuse consistently stalled deep in Virginia territory. That last 31-yarder sailed through with 1:14 left in the game and proved to be the game-winner.
Dino Babers had some things to say about the ‚Äúold Andre‚Äù being back, and that‚Äôs a good thing for SU. Last year, Szmyt‚Äôs 9-14 mark on field goals was his career worst. This year, he‚Äôs 9-10, including Friday‚Äôs record-tying game – the five field goals in one game tied a program record set just one other occasion. Don McAuley booted five back in 1983 against Kent State.
Syracuse pulled off a win Friday despite a second-straight vanishing act from its best player. After an 18 carry, 42-yard performance against Purdue, Sean Tucker mustered only 60 yards on 21 carries against the ‚ÄòHoos. His 102 combined yards the past two weeks are the fewest over a two-week span since consecutive slow days against Clemson and Boston College in November 2020. It‚Äôs a stark change for Tucker, whose role as the focal point of SU‚Äôs offense in 2021 saw him set a program record with nine 100-yard games. To add insult to injury, Tucker also lost his first career fumble against UVA in the first quarter.
It‚Äôs a mystery as to why Tucker can‚Äôt get it going as of late, but a strong Virginia front might’ve been the culprit Friday. The Cavs sacked Garrett Shrader six times and suffocated his running lanes, so perhaps Tucker has run up against two straight talented Power Five teams determined to stop him. The good news is that a get-right game awaits next week in Wagner College.
Speaking of Shrader, he suffered alongside Tucker as SU‚Äôs ground game labored mightily against Virginia. Cavaliers defensive coordinator John Rudzinski, the former architect of some very good Air Force defenses, seemed dead-set on forcing SU to beat them through the air. That eventually happened, but Rudzinski‚Äôs bunch pulled off its gameplan – Syracuse‚Äôs 2.0 yards per carry (38 carries for 75 yards) marked its lowest output in that category since last year‚Äôs season finale against Pitt.
Shrader‚Äôs 14 carries for 11 yards easily marked a season low, but the Orange somehow still pulled off a victory. It snapped a 15-game losing streak Syracuse had accumulated in games it had averaged 2.0 or fewer yards per carry as a team. Prior to Friday, the last time the ‚ÄòCuse scraped out a win despite such an anemic running attack was back against Rhode Island in 2011. That day, a 21-14 nail-biter went SU‚Äôs way thanks to a 318-yard, three touchdown day from quarterback Ryan Nassib, despite a rough afternoon from running back Antwon Bailey (13 carries, 43 yards).
Despite Syracuse‚Äôs offensive struggles, the SU defense picked up most of the slack. On a day where rover Justin Barron was ejected for targeting and three different starters went down with injury, the Orange D locked down UVA fifth-year quarterback Brennan Armstrong like few teams ever have before. Armstrong‚Äôs Sports-Reference.com quarterback efficiency rating of 83.9 (on a collegiate scale that goes up into the hundreds) marked the second lowest of his career in a game with 10 or more pass attempts.
For reference, Armstrong‚Äôs best game under the same criteria came against Abilene Christian in 2020 with a mark of 266.8 during a 16-23, 383-yard four touchdown performance. In comparison, Armstrong‚Äôs day against Syracuse (19-38, 138 yards, 1 TD 1 INT) was marred by inaccuracy and lack of timing with his receivers. The one interception – a hideous floater thrown into triple coverage and nabbed by Garrett Williams – was especially glaring. Across 32 appearances at UVA, the only Armstrong game worse than his performance in the Dome came just two weeks prior during UVA‚Äôs 24-3 defeat against Illinois.