Facing a near must-win matchup with North Carolina State to keep their bowl hopes alive, Syracuse followed a script seen far too often in recent seasons. The Orange (3-5, 1-4 ACC) hung tough on defense, but their offense could not do enough to provide the winning points, as they dropped a 24-17 decision at home to the Wolfpack (5-4, 1-4).
SU had two primary problems on offense, one haunting them throughout the game and the other swinging the game in the second half. The Orange offensive line, which has been deteriorated by injuries, could not consistently block in either the run or pass game throughout the contest, as the team netted only 38 rush yards and gave up eight sacks. The second half problem was the more painful one, as freshman quarterback A.J. Long committed a pair of turnovers that N.C. State converted into touchdowns.
The Wolfpack started the game with an effective drive that reached the SU 26, but the Syracuse stiffened, forcing them to settle for a 43-yard field goal less than three minutes into the contest. Two N.C. State drives later, they doubled their lead on another 43-yard field goal, but needed an 18-yard run on a fake punt and later recovering their own fumble to salvage points out of the possession.
Meanwhile, the Orange were putting on a clinic on what not to do on offense. Through their first four possessions, Syracuse gained a total of 16 yards. Following that fourth drive, State responded with their deepest penetration of the half, reaching the Orange four-yard-line before settling for a 21-yard field goal to extend their lead to 9-0 with just over eight minutes left in the opening half.
The next SU possession seemed to fit in with its predecessors, as it started with the Orange being flagged for holding. On the next play, however, A.J. Long hooked up with Jarrod West for a 35-yard completion, as the receiver found a soft spot in the zone defense and split two defenders for the big gain. While Syracuse was forced to punt on the next set of downs, the offense was able to build on that bit of success on their next possession.
SU took over after punt at their own four-yard-line. After gaining one first down on a pair of runs, a pass interference call against the visitors kept the possession alive with a second. Long would later connect with West on a 30-yard pass down the left sideline. Three plays after that, Long connected with Ben Lewis for the score when the junior made a sensational diving catch from 15 yards out. Cole Murphy booted the extra point and the Orange were down, 9-7, with 15 seconds left in the quarter.
Syracuse got the kickoff to start the third quarter and, after getting another pass interference flag to extend the drive, punished the Wolfpack for giving them a second chance. Long scrambled to move the sticks twice inside NC State territory, then floated a pass to Steve Ishmael. Ishmael made a nice adjustment, cutting back under the defensive back to pull in the 25-yard scoring pass. Murphy’s conversion put SU on top with just over three minutes gone in the third quarter at 14-9.
Now holding the lead to go with the momentum, the Orange forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. The Wolfpack covered the loose ball, but were also penalized and backed up at their own four. Three plays later, NC State was forced to punt and SU started their next drive at the visitors’ 42.
The Orange tried to catch the ‘Pack napping and go for the kill at the same time on their first play. SU opted to try a reverse with a pitch back to Long to throw the deep ball, but the quarterback was hit and fumbled before he could get the pass away. The Orange covered the ball, but lost 11 yards on the play. SU would manage to get to a 4th-and-5 at the N.C. State 37, then employed a pre-snap shift from a field goal alignment to a running play, but the Wolfpack called time out before Syracuse could snap the ball. Following the break, the Orange punted.
After the Syracuse defense forced another quick punt, the offense continued to click. Long again hit West for a big play, this one for 29 yards. After picking up another first down, though, Long was intercepted and it was returned 82 yards for an N.C. State score. The Wolfpack opted to try a two-point conversion and succeeded, taking a 17-14 lead with just under three minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Orange offense was not deterred, dialing up a deep pass on the first play of the next possession. The pass was incomplete, short-circuiting the drive and forcing a Syracuse punt.
SU’s defense forced yet another quick punt, making it three straight third quarter drives without a Wolfpack first down. Each team punted two more times after that.
The Orange took over with 5:23 remaining in regulation and promptly committed a holding penalty and gave up a sack. The sack, however, came with a late hit flag against the visitors, giving SU 15 yards and a first down. A couple plays later, Long gifted the ball to N.C. State again, this time fumbling when trying to avoid the pass rush. The ‘Pack covered up the ball at Orange 35.
This is where the Syracuse defense finally broke. Five plays later, N.C. State took a short pass, added a missed tackle, and ended up with a touchdown with 2:14 on the clock. The extra point gave them a 24-14 lead.
The Orange took over following a touchback and Long promptly completed 4-of-6 passes, the last one being a 32-yard connection with West to the visitors’ nine-yard-line. SU promptly committed a holding infraction and allowed a sack, pushing them back to the N.C. State 24. After using their last timeout, Long threw an incompletion, then was dropped for another sack.
The Orange field goal unit hustled onto the field and, while they were setting up, the Wolfpack oddly called a timeout, stopping the clock for the hosts. After the stoppage, Murphy powered a 50-yard kick through the uprights, making it a 24-17 game with 17 seconds left and setting up an SU onside kick.
The onside kick was executed perfectly, as linebacker Dyshawn Davis snagged the ball out of midair on its second hop just after the ball had traveled the required ten yards. Syracuse had the ball and needed to move 55 yards for a touchdown in those 17 seconds.
After an incompletion, Long threw a bomb down the middle of the field, only it blew up on the Orange, as it was intercepted at the N.C. State eight-yard-line. The ‘Pack needed only to down the ball to finish off the clock and leave with the victory.
A.J. Long rebounded pretty well after his disappointing outing against Clemson, throwing for 307 yards while completing 22-of-42 passes. He tossed for two scores, but also had a pair of interceptions and a lost fumble. Jarrod West had one of the best performances of his Syracuse career, gaining a personal-best 161 yards on seven catches.
For the second straight outing, Cameron Lynch posted ten tackles and added one of SU’s six tackles for loss, which was a sack. True freshman Zaire Franklin had a solid effort, finishing with eight stops and a tackle for loss. Ron Thompson and Trevon Trejo combined for the second Orange sack. Dyshawn Davis had three quarterback hits to go with his six tackles.
A.J. Long’s 307 passing yards mark the first time in school history that a freshman has thrown for more than 300 yards in a game. Long also set a freshman record with 72 completions on the year.
Jarrod West now stands eighth in Syracuse history with 1,746 career receiving yards, passing Art Monk, Quinton Spotwood, and Rob Carpenter in the game.
Cameron Lynch is now tied for tenth in SU history with 16.5 sacks in his career.
The Orange will wrap up a series of nine straight games between bye weeks next week on Senior Day when #24 Duke visits the Carrier Dome. The Blue Devils (7-1, 3-1), who escaped Pittsburgh with a 51-48 win in double overtime on Saturday, look to extend their winning streak to four straight games and continue their march toward a second consecutive Coastal Division title.
Syracuse needs to win out in their final three contests to become bowl eligible. They will kick off with Duke at 12:30pm Eastern on Saturday and the ACC Network will televise the game, so please check your local television listings. The contest will also stream online at ESPN3.com.