A quick take on Syracuse’s 24-21 win over Liberty on Friday evening at the Carrier Dome:
WHAT HAPPENED: Liberty quarterback Malik Willis was sacked at the Liberty 30 yard line, fumbling with 3:35 to go in the fourth quarter and Syracuse linebacker Mikel Jones recovered. That set up an Andre Szymt 35-yard field goal as time expired to give Syracuse its third win of the season and avenge last year’s 38-21 loss. The Orange appeared to be cruising to a win, as a Garrett Shrader 10-yard run into the end zone gave the Orange a 21-7 lead with 9:46 to go in the third quarter. But Liberty scored 14 unanswered points to tie the game as Willis found Demario Douglas for a 33 yard touchdown with 14:35 left. The Flames appeared poised to take the lead as they marched all the way to the Syracuse 2-yard line with 8:00 to go. But the Orange stuffed a 4th down attempt and created the turnover while seizing momentum.
ANALYSIS: Shrader made his first start of the season, and Syracuse tailored its offense to his strengths. Shrader was inaccurate with his deep balls, and threw just 15 times, completing six passes for 77 yards. There was zero quarterback controversy on Friday, as Dino Babers benched incumbent starter Tommy Devito, who did not appear at all after the two quarterbacks had split snaps through the first three games of the season. Shrader was recruited to SU based on his speed, and showed why as he carried the ball 15 times for 51 yards and two touchdowns. SU’s offensive line still appears shaky, with Airon Servais shifting back to center, a position he has not played in three seasons, but Syracuse still rushed 51 times compared to 15 passes. Sean Tucker finished the game with 31 carries for 168 yards and a touchdown, marking the third time this season he’s rushed for 100 or more yards.
HERO: Liberty came into Friday night averaging 38.0 points per game, and 195 yards on the ground per game, good for 37th in the country. The Orange defense held the Flames well below both averages, as Liberty rushed for 150 yards and slowing down one of college football’s most dynamic players in Willis. Syracuse’s defense also made several stops when it needed to, stuffing the Flames on a 4th and goal at the 2 yard line, and also coming up with a big turnover that set up the game-winning field goal. Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense, now in its second season, appears to have hit its stride, as it sacked Willis six times.
ZERO: It’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback, but Hugh Freeze’s decision to go for it on 4th down at the 2-yard line when SU was struggling to move the ball in the fourth quarter will be questioned plenty. A field goal was a guaranteed lead, and SU’s goal line stand was the momentum changer that it needed.
WHAT’S NEXT: Syracuse opens ACC play when it travels to play 0-3 Florida State on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 12:30 p.m. TV: ACC Network.