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Coming off a 29-9 season-opening win over Ohio last weekend, Syracuse (1-1) returned to the Carrier Dome to face Rutgers (2-0). It was the first football game in the Dome with fans since SU’s November 2019 overtime win over Wake Forest.
In the first meeting between the former Big East rivals in nine years, Rutgers defeated SU 17-7. Scarlet Knights quarterback Noah Vedral threw for 145 yards and a touchdown, and Olakunle Fatukasi totaled eight tackles to lead the Scarlet Knights’ defense.
Here are three takeaways from Syracuse’s loss to Rutgers on Saturday.
Offenses struggle, defenses step up
Rutgers scored 61 points in its week one matchup against Temple but struggled offensively, especially in the first half. The Scarlet Knights had just 47 yards of total offense in the first half and lost nine yards on their 16 rushing attempts.
On Rutgers’ second drive of the second quarter, Syracuse sacked Vedral twice — once by McKinley Williams for a loss of 10 yards and again by Marlowe Wax for a 5-yard loss after Vedral tried to scramble to the right side. As the noise in the Dome increased with a third-and-25 play, RU’s offensive line jumped for a false start that pushed the Scarlet Knights back five yards further. Syracuse held on third down to force the punt.
Rutgers brought more pressure after SU transfer quarterback Garrett Shrader checked into the game in the second quarter, routinely forcing him to scramble out of the pocket. After a three-and-out on his first two drives, Shrader led Syracuse down the field with his arm but overthrew wide receiver Courtney Jackson twice on passes that could have resulted in touchdowns. Instead, SU and Rutgers ended the first half scoreless.
Rutgers was able to drive down the field in the third quarter, and Kyle Monangai scored on an 11-yard touchdown run to cap off the 13-play, 63-yard drive that stretched over six minutes. It was the first points put on the scoreboard after nearly 40 minutes of play. Syracuse responded on the ensuing possession after a 51-yard connection between quarterback Tommy DeVito and wide receiver Taj Harris. Sean Tucker finished the drive off on a handoff from 24 yards out, tying the game and giving the Orange their first points of the game.
Both teams picked up the offense after halftime, with a combined 21 points scored in the third quarter. Vedral and the Rutgers’ passing attack found more success throwing toward the edges of the field to weapons like Bo Melton and Aron Cruickshank. Bo Melton finished as RU’s receiving leader with nine catches for 44 yards. Syracuse finished the game with 258 total yards but only scored seven points.
Miscues cost Syracuse
Syracuse played a clean game against Ohio, recording no turnovers. Freshman punter James Williams showed no problems in his first start. But early against Rutgers, SU struggled to hold onto the ball. After forcing a punt on the Orange’s opening drive, freshman defensive back Max Melton blocked Williams’ first punt, and the Scarlet Knights recovered it inside the SU 20-yard line.
Rutgers’ field goal attempt on the ensuing possession was botched, and then on Syracuse’s longest drive of the second quarter, Harris took a tunnel screen pass on the right side of the field and tried to stretch the play into a first down. But Harris fumbled the ball inside the 10-yard line, and Max Melton again made the play, recovering the ball for RU.
An ensuing review awarded the ball to Rutgers, and Harris reacted by jumping up and down, throwing his arms in the air, disappointed in himself after costing the Orange their first chance at points and the lead.
With five minutes remaining in the second quarter, Syracuse’s freshman punt returner, Trebor Pena, couldn’t corral Adam Korsak’s punt, but Pena was able to jump on the ball and recover it. Syracuse started the possession on its 15-yard line and was forced to punt after three plays and just five yards gained. Pena later misplayed the first punt of the second half by letting it hit the turf instead of fielding it, and Rutgers was able to down it at SU’s 1-yard line.
On Syracuse’s longest drive of the half — eight plays and 34 yards engineered by Shrader — kicker Andre Szmyt missed a 43-yard field goal wide left, sending the game to halftime with a 0-0 score.
After a missed Rutgers field goal early in the fourth quarter, SU took over from its own 10-yard line. DeVito was strip-sacked on the first play of the drive by Mayan Ahanotu, who powered right through the offensive lineman guarding him to get to DeVito. Rutgers converted the turnover into a 28-yard field goal to put it up by 10. The Orange were unable to move the ball well on their final possessions of the fourth quarter, sealing the loss. DeVito’s final pass of the day was intercepted by Max Melton, and fans began heading for the exits shortly after.
Quarterback battle intensifies
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers hinted before week one that both DeVito and Shrader would see playing time. Against Ohio, DeVito made the start and played the majority of the game. Shrader ended with just one pass toward the end of the 20-point win.
But on Saturday, Babers made the decision to move to Shrader to start the second quarter. DeVito went 7-for-9 for 66 yards in the first quarter but was unable to produce any scoring drives. Shrader went 4-for-6 for 42 yards throwing in the second quarter and showed a tendency to take off from the pocket quicker than DeVito normally does. DeVito was sacked four times and ran for only 13 yards.
During every break during the game, Shrader was seen warming up on the edge of the field next to Syracuse’s sideline, throwing passes with freshman quarterback Luke MacPhail. Shrader did not see any action in the second half, and DeVito finished 15-for-26 with 149 yards passing.