Defense Struggles, Offense Stalls in Syracuse Football’s Loss to North Carolina State
NC State scored a touchdown four different ways in the second quarter against Syracuse. WAER's Will Henstchel discusses that, and many other negatives for the Orange in Saturday’s loss.
With 3:16 remaining in the second quarter, SeanTucker did what he’s been doing all season. The running back took the handoff from Garrett Shrader, moved to the left side of the field, and put on the jets. A few seconds, a great block by Shrader and 55 yards later, he scored the Orange’s first points of the game. SU was still down, but the score was now 14-7. By the time the clock read 3:02, it didn’t matter. North Carolina State’s Zonovan Knight took the ensuing kick 97 yards for the score.
In a lot of ways, those two plays embodied what happened Saturday for Syracuse football. Something good happens for the Orange, the Wolfpact immediately responds. It was a brutal recipe as Syracuse dropped its penultimate game against #20 North Carolina State 41-17.
After a scoreless first quarter for both teams, North Carolina went to work in the second frame. The Wolfpack seemingly found every way to score a touchdown in six and a half minutes, as if they were trying to break some record. It started simple enough with a 15-yard Ricky Person run for the score. Then, on defense, Drake Thomas returned an errant Shrader pass for a pick-six. Knight then tallied with the aforementioned kick return. And Christopher Toudle finished things off with a 14-yard reception. One quarter, four ways to score a touchdown. At halftime, the Pack was up 28-7.
The pass killed the Orange. Not just trying to defend against it, but also trying to make it work offensively. NC State quarterback Devin Leary completed 17 passes on 24 attempts for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. From the opening whistle, the SU defensive backs struggled to cover and contain the Wolfpack receivers.
Shrader had a much less productive afternoon, completing eight of 20, no scores, and the pick-six.
“We gotta hit some of those shots,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “If you guys go back and check the tape, there’s guys open. As open as their guys were, was as open as our guys were. But we gotta make those throws, if you make those throws, it opens up all kinds of things.”
Babers may have felt pressured to make the pass work. NC State is the #12 rush defense in the nation. On average, they hold opponents to just over 100 yards on the ground. Entering this week's matchup, the Wolfpack had only allowed five rushing touchdowns all season. That makes it even more impressive that the Orange had any success on the ground. Tucker and Shrader combined for 170 yards, led by Tucker with 105. The pair each scored one touchdown.
NC State also attacked the Orange with a ground game of their own, just much more diverse. Four players carried the ball for positive yardage for 96 total yards and a touchdown. While the Wolfpack are a better passing team, their ground game served them well, and multiplied their options.
The most important run of the day came from Tucker in the second quarter. Tucker took the ball from his QB, ran around the right edge of the line, and stepped out of bounds after a gain of 17. The run was the personification of simplicity for Tucker all year, but that run elevated him past Joe Morris’ 1979 single-season rushing record. Tucker’s 1,467 yards by the end of the game cemented his status as one of Syracuse’s greats.
The loss relegates Syracuse to 5-6 (2-5 ACC). After two blown chances, Syracuse will have one final opportunity to reach a bowl game this season. But getting that win is far easier said than done. SU’s next opponent is #18 Pitt. The 9-2 Panthers will be a very tough test for a struggling Orange team with their backs against the wall. Kickoff for that matchup is scheduled for Nov. 27, 7:30 pm. WAER has you covered at 7:00 for GZA Countdown to Kickoff and all the in-game action.