A quick take on Syracuse’s season-worst performance in its 41-3 loss to Louisville, a speedy three hour game on a chilly Saturday afternoon at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville:
WHAT HAPPENED: On a day in which a sixth victory would have clinched bowl eligibility, Syracuse (5-5, 2-4) was never in the game after winning the coin toss and receiving the opening kickoff. Instead, it was a day of coronation for the Louisville program, highlighted with the halftime ceremony honoring 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson by retiring his Number 8 jersey, and the dazzling performance of current UL quarterback Malik Cunningham (four touchdown passes) for the third straight season in games versus the ‘Cuse. The Orange, coming off an open week, lost the momentum of two straight wins, and came out flat offensively (only 184 total yards) managing only an Andre Szmyt 43-yard field goal in the first half, trailing 35-3 at halftime. Sean Tucker just missed extending his streak to eight straight games going over 100 yards, finishing with 95 yards rushing on 19 carries. The Orange defense, often times a step slow to the Cards, gave up 382 yards.
ANALYSIS: Facing Louisville (5-5, 3-4) is a bad matchup for Syracuse since the Cards joined the ACC in 2014, and playing on the road for a third straight year in the series contributed to the lopsided nature of the game, which was over at halftime. UL is now 7-1 in those eight league games, outscoring Syracuse 337-152, or a 42-19 average. Along with Tucker’s struggles gaining yards, Garrett Shrader struggled in the air, passing for only 46 yards. Besides the X’s and O’s on the field, the SU players never looked mentally ready to play. The collective body language of the team dressed in all-white uniforms (SU), was that it wasn’t going to be its day against the team wearing all-black uniforms (UL). There was simply never any sense of Syracuse momentum in game all about controlling the momentum.
HERO: Cunningham just loves facing SU defenses, even if he only played three quarters in this game due to a hand injury and tweaking a sore ankle with UL up 35 points. Before exiting, Cunningham was 13-for-18 passing for 209 yards and the four touchdown passes, throwing beautiful balls to five different receivers. Cunningham also rushed for 26 yards and the game’s first touchdown on a six yard run in the first quarter, constantly keeping the SU defense guessing run or pass.
ZERO: Besides the Syracuse defensive woes, the heart of the unit, linebacker and captain Mikel Jones, was flagged for targeting on a tackle with 10:15 to play in the second quarter and disqualified. Jones was inconsolable on the sideline, having to be calmed down by teammate Neil Nunn and staff member Sean Edinger. Punter Ian Hawkins struggled changing field position with his kicks, averaging only 30-yards on six punts. To add insult to injury, SU failed to score on its first drive of the third quarter when a fumbled snap sent Shrader scurrying to recover the ball on 4th down and goal at the UL 2-yard line.
WHAT’S NEXT: Syracuse continues its quest for a sixth win, playing its final regular season road game next Saturday, Nov. 20 against No. 16 North Carolina State at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. Last season in the Dome, the Wolfpack came-from-behind in the fourth quarter to win 36-29. NCSU (7-3, 4-2) fell late 45-42 at No. 12 Wake Forest Saturday night. Game Time: 4:00 p.m. ET. TV: ACC Network.