Instant Juice: Syracuse 41, Virginia Tech 36

Babers+GaTech
Sep 26, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Dino Babers looks on against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A quick take on Syracuse’s sweet comeback in its 41-36 victory against Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon, on a sunny and breezy 60° autumn afternoon at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.:

WHAT HAPPENED: Syracuse (4-4, 1-3) snapped its eight game ACC road losing streak dating back to 2019, and notched its first conference win of the season with a stunning last minute touchdown.  Garrett Shrader found a leaping Damien Alford for a 45-yard TD pass with 0:19 left to silence the home crowd, and SU survived a Virginia Tech (3-4, 1-2) final-play Hail Mary pass that fell incomplete. In a game that featured five lead changes in the second half, Syracuse, after beating Liberty and then losing to Florida State, Wake Forest, and Clemson in games all decided by three points, finally won a close contest that came down to the game’s final play.

ANALYSIS: The final 1:54 of the first half went a long way to determine the game’s outcome, until the final Syracuse drive.  After a Garrett Shrader 9 yard TD run, a seemingly routine Andre Szmyt PAT to tie the game at 14-14 was instead blocked and returned by the Hokies Dorian Strong 95 yards for a two point defensive PAT.  Then the Orange drove down to the one yard line, but couldn’t score a touchdown after calling two consecutive timeouts.  Instead, Szmyt then clanked a 19-yard field goal off the right upright, his sixth missed field goal of the year.  That turned out to be a six point swing that kept the game in limbo until the SU defense came up big and forced Tech to punt with 1:04 to play, and gave the ‘Cuse one more chance.  Shrader and Sean Tucker (123 tough yards) again led a potent Syracuse rushing attack (314 yards on the ground), but it was Shrader’s passing completions (16-for-34 overall for 236 yards) at just the right time that kept the Orange in the game.  The key team stat: SU finished 4-for-4 on fourth down conversions to keep scoring drives alive, including the drive that resulted in the game-winning pass play.

HERO: Shrader was simply marvelous running the Orange attack, especially with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.  He accounted for 410 yards of total offense rushing for three scores and passing for two other touchdowns.  Shrader’s 21-yard scamper came on the first drive of the second half, in addition to 9-yard and 3-yard scoring runs, along with the clutch fourth quarter TD passes to Courtney Jackson and Alford.  Shrader stood out for his composure and toughness all afternoon, especially on the final drive converting a fourth down, then taking a hard hit on the 45-yard pass that won the game.

» Related: Why Syracuse RB Sean Tucker deserves Heisman buzz

ZERO: Incomprehensible.  That’s the only way to describe the clock management difficulties that again plagued the Orange late in the second quarter, and the continued season-long slump by Szmyt.  SU again had difficulty getting the right players on the field, resulting in the two straight timeouts having to be called.  Szmyt simply doesn’t resemble the 2018 Lou Groza award winner as the nation’s top kicker, now having failed on two PATS this year in addition to the six missed field goals.

WHAT’S NEXT: For the third straight year, Syracuse hosts Boston College in the Dome when the teams meet next Saturday afternoon, Oct. 30.  The last two seasons it’s been all BC, with the Eagles winning in contrasting fashion; 16-13 in 2020, and 58-27 in 2019.  Boston College (4-2, 0-2) played at Louisville later Saturday afternoon.  Game Time: 3:30 p.m. ET.  TV: ACC Regional Sports Networks.

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About Brad Bierman 779 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.