A quick take on Syracuse’s demoralizing 41-17 defeat against No. 20 North Carolina State Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh:
WHAT HAPPENED: On the rare day that the Syracuse basketball team was playing simultaneously (and upset 100-85 by Colgate in the Dome for the first loss to the Raiders since 1962, snapping a 54-game winning streak in the series) as the football team, two late second quarter Wolfpack touchdowns made for a long second half for the Orange. Down 14-7 and kicking off with 3:06 to play in the second quarter, NC State’s Bam Knight returned the kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, then State added a 14 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Devin Leary to Chris Toudle with 0:08 left until halftime to break the game open. With a pretty 14 yard run early in the second quarter, Sean Tucker surpassed the school’s single-season rushing record of 1372 yards set by Joe Morris in 1979. Tucker finished with a hard-earned 105 yards on 13 carries, the bulk on a highlight reel 55-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. It will come down to the final game of the season next Saturday to see if Syracuse (5-6, 2-5) can become bowl eligible for the second time in Dino Babers six seasons (see below).
ANALYSIS: Following a sloppy scoreless first quarter, it was the North Carolina State (8-3, 5,2) offense that first got untracked. Leary’s 49 yard pass to Thayer Thomas set up State’s first touchdown run of 15 yards by Ricky Person, Jr. One play from scrimmage later, Garrett Shrader’s pass was picked off by linebacker Drake Thomas and he returned the pick 38 yards for a score to make it 14-0. After Tucker’s 55 yard touchdown scamper gave the Orange some life, a breakdown on kick returns changed the momentum in 15 seconds as Knight went the distance breaking several tackles to quickly flip the game’s flow. Syracuse’s second half scoring was a 45 yard Andre Szmyt field goal and a Shrader 48 yard TD run with 8:45 to play, meaning SU has scored just two touchdowns in its two games in November. That’s not exactly the makings of a bowl-worthy team.
HERO: Wolfpack quarterback Leary did just enough with his passing touch to give his team the spark it needed to remain alive for the ACC Atlantic Division title. Leary finished 17-for-24 passing for 303 yards and two scores. Besides his interception return for a score, Drake Thomas had a team-high seven tackles and two sacks.
ZERO: The season-long dilemma of not having a vertical passing game continued to hurt SU against an aggressive NCSU defense which had 11 tackles for lost yardage. Shrader finished just 8-for-20 passing for 63 yards and was sacked five times. Except for Tucker’s 55 yard run, he was bottled up most of the game at the line of scrimmage. The old penalty bugaboo returned in this game with the Orange flagged nine times, the self-inflicted errors limiting the already slim margin of knocking off a Top 25 ranked team on the road.
WHAT’S NEXT: It comes down to the final game of the season to get to six wins and bowl eligibility as Syracuse hosts Pittsburgh next Saturday, Nov. 27 in the Dome. The Panthers have dominated the series winning seven of the last eight games, including 21-10 at Heinz Field last season. The only SU win in the Babers era was in 2017, 27-24 at the Dome. Pittsburgh (9-2, 6-1) beat Virginia 48-38 Saturday afternoon to clinch the Coastal Division and earn a berth in the ACC Championship game. Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET. TV: ACC Network.