3 things we learned from Syracuse’s 36-29 loss to NC State

Syracuse-NCState-11-28-20
Nov 28, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange wide receiver Taj Harris (3)is tackled by North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Jakeen Harris (6) and cornerback Aydan White (15) in the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse lost their seventh straight on Saturday afternoon, dropping them to a lowly 1-9. The Orange led for the majority the afternoon, but NC State took the lead for good when Wolfpack quarterback Bailey Hockman connected with Emeka Emezie for the touchdown with 14:14 left in the fourth quarter. NC State would add another field goal for the final margin of 36-29.

Here are some takeaways from the game:

INSIDE SU’S FINAL DRIVE

While it’s unfair to ever pin a loss on one play or possession, it is difficult not to look at the last drive for the Orange where they marched inside NC State’s 7-yard line to tie it up only to bungle third and fourth down.

On third down with 45 seconds left, quarterback Rex Culpepper could not find an open target and circled around multiple times only to finally be taken down for an 11 yard loss. Culpepper had multiple opportunities to throw it away and avoid a sack but instead made a poor decision to hang on to the ball.

“Obviously you want to throw that ball,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “The third down call, you have to throw it away and then you play the fourth down snap.”

Culpepper did neither of these things. On fourth down, Culpepper was barely able to get the snap off before the play clock expired only to inexplicably spike it with :01 left, turning the ball over on downs and giving it back to NC State who kneeled for the win.

“If you’re gonna go on fourth down you’re gonna have to throw the ball,” Babers said. “No one wants to spike it on fourth down.”

BABERS DEFENDS CULPEPPER

While there was plenty of consternation at Culpepper’s final two plays, Babers still defended his senior quarterback. Culpepper had a solid, but not spectacular game, finishing with 254 yards on 23-45 passing and two touchdowns.

“I don’t look at these plays, there are people making mistakes but one mistake doesn’t win or lose a game,” Babers said. “”Rex is going to go off and do great things. It’s something you need to grow from, he had a heck of a game and it was unfortunate that that one play was bad.”

While this season does not count against a player’s eligibility because of COVID, many players who would’ve been playing their senior season may still decide to move on. If that turns out to be the case for Culpepper, he may have played his final game at the Carrier Dome.

Culpepper, originally a Shafer recruit, has had a windy history at Syracuse. He started as a reserve quarterback before being switched over to tight end and back again. In the interim, he also survived cancer and threw a memorable touchdown in his return.

“My biggest disappointment sitting right here after a loss is seniors playing their last game in the Dome played with no fans,” Babers said. “They didn’t get a chance for a victory which is really disappointing.”

» Related: The Syracuse football season has become one big turkey

98-YARD RETURN GETS SU ON THE BOARD

While Syracuse’s final plays ended forgettably, it’s first score of the game was a memorable one. After NC State had gone up 7-0 with 7:38 left in the first quarter, the Orange got on the board on the ensuing kickoff.

Trebor Pena returned it 98 yards for a touchdown to tie the game, tying Dorian Graham’s 98-yard return against West Virginia in 2011. That seemed to spark a lethargic Syracuse offense, as they went on to score two field goals and a touchdown in their next four drives.

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