A quick take on Syracuse’s tough-to-swallow 36-29 loss against North Carolina State in the home finale at the Dome Saturday afternoon:
WHAT HAPPENED: For just the second time this season Syracuse (1-9, 1-8) led at halftime (22-14), but as has often happened in this tough campaign, a great defensive effort was lost in the second half as the offense faltered. SU entered as 17 point underdogs but gave North Carolina State (7-3, 6-3) all it could handle leading until the 14:14 mark of the fourth quarter. The Orange had one last drive into State territory in an effort to tie the game with under 2:00 left, but came up short on 4th down at the NCSU 18-yard line when Rex Culpepper spiked the ball into the ground. North Carolina State quarterback Bailey Hockman threw three second half touchdowns, and a late field goal helped preserve the Wolfpack’s comeback victory.
ANALYSIS: Give credit to the Orange coaching staff to have the team ready to play, starting a school-record six freshmen on defense, and returning Culpepper to the starting quarterback role in place of injured freshman JaCobian Morgan. Culpepper, unfortunately, lost track of downs when he threw the football into the ground on 4th and 12 with 0:04 left ending the game. Earlier he threw a beautiful 60 yard scoring strike to Nykeim Johnson in the second quarter, and connected on a career-high 13 completions and a touchdown with Taj Harris, but the running game was grounded; 25 rushing attempts netted just three yards. Culpepper finished 23-for-45 for 254 yards passing and two scores.
HERO: ‘Pack junior quarterback Hockman set career-highs with 313 yards passing and his four touchdown passes. Hockman picked himself up from the Dome turf overcoming a first half fumble at the goal line costing NSCU six points, and being sacked in the end zone for a first half safety. Hockman found six receivers overall, connecting with Thayer Thomas for nine catches, three for touchdowns.
ZERO: The fact that a day of big plays went awry in the end with a seventh straight defeat. Freshman Trebor Pena’s 98-yard kickoff return for a score in the first quarter, was the first for SU since 2011. The tackle at the goal line by Geoff Cantin-Arku that took away a NCSU touchdown and resulted in a touchback when Hockman fumbled the football. The second quarter safety caused when Hockman was sacked in the end zone, and the 60 yard touchdown pass from Culpepper to Johnson all went for naught.
WHAT’S NEXT: Syracuse ends a season of upheaval with a game at No. 2 Notre Dame next Saturday, Dec. 5 in South Bend, Ind. The last time the teams met was in 2018 at Yankee Stadium, a convincing 36-3 Irish win. Notre Dame (9-0, 8-0) beat 19th ranked North Carolina 31-17 Friday on the road, with a strong second half performance. The Irish are eying a slot in both the ACC Championship game (Dec. 19) and College Football Playoff semifinals (Jan. 1). Game Time: 2:30 p.m. ET. TV: NBC.