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In search of a sixth win to become bowl eligible, Syracuse folded for the second week in a row. The defense held for a single quarter, but then the Orange gave up 28 points in the second quarter. The No. 25 Wolfpack struck via two quick touchdowns, a pick-six and a 97-yard kickoff return. SU couldn’t claw its way back.
Now, the Orange have one chance remaining — against a ranked Pittsburgh team — to earn their sixth win of the season.
Here are three takeaways from the Orange’s (5-6, 2-5 Atlantic Coast) 41-17 loss to No. 25 NC State (8-3, 5-2 ACC) on Saturday:
NC State strikes with explosive plays
Coming out of a media timeout in the second quarter, NC State quarterback Devin Leary rolled to his right and unleashed a deep bomb toward Thayer Thomas. The wide receiver beat SU defensive back Jason Simmons over the top for a 49-yard gain, and NC State cashed in one play later with a 15-yard touchdown rush.
A few weeks ago, Syracuse was among the top defenses against explosive plays in the nation. But against Louisville, the Orange’s strength turned into a major first-half problem. And that continued in Raleigh. The Orange conceded three big rushing plays (10-plus yards) and seven big passing plays (15-plus yards).
Following Thayer’s touchdown, Garrett Shrader didn’t see linebacker Drake Thomas, who snatched the pass and dodged by tackles for a defensive touchdown. On the sideline, Drake grabbed a sharpie and signed the “turnover bone” — the Wolfpack player with the most turnovers gets to keep it at the end of the year.
Syracuse struck back with a long run from Sean Tucker, but moments later Zonovan Knight ran back a kickoff for a second straight week. The returner sprinted past three SU players that collided near midfield and then slipped by linebacker Stefon Thompson for the touchdown.
And then moments before halftime, Leary stepped up in the pocket and delivered a precise pass to Devin Carter for a 58-yard gain over defensive back Duce Chestnut. The cornerback broke up two passes on Saturday but was burned on the deep shot. The Wolfpack scored a touchdown moments before the half, courtesy of the explosive play.
Shrader’s inaccurate day
The Syracuse quarterback seemed to be most successful as a run blocker on Saturday against the Wolfpack, setting an excellent edge block that helped spring a 55-yard Tucker touchdown and another strong block later in the third quarter. He showed glimpses of success late in the second half with a 48-yard touchdown after the game had already been decided. But aside from that, Shrader threw 8-of-20 for 63 yards and a pick-six. A week prior, he threw for just 46 yards in the Orange’s blowout loss to the Cardinals.
At one point, Shrader didn’t complete a pass from midway through the first quarter to midway through the third quarter (seven straight incompletions). His final quarterback rating was 56.5.
In Syracuse’s first series, he missed wide receiver Anthony Queeley on a slant pass that was too low. Then he was sacked as he tried to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure, forcing SU to punt.
Shrader repeatedly misfired when the pressure was getting to him. He was hurried and missed wide receiver Sharod Johnson on a crossing route in the second quarter, and he threw numerous balls either too high or too low. He also threw two passes just moments apart over the middle to Damien Alford in the first half, resulting in two big hits on the receiver.
In the third quarter with Syracuse down by three scores and needing to get the offense going, Shrader missed a wide-open DeVaughn Cooper while throwing on the move. The ball was significantly underthrown. Then he missed Johnson on the following play, a third-and-11, and SU was forced to punt which set up a short field. NC State turned it into three points.
And by the time he finally started to get some rhythm going, it was far too late. He threw five straight completions during the third quarter, making it a 31-10 game, but the opportunity to comeback had already passed for SU.
Another insurmountable first-half deficit courtesy of another slow start
Last week in Louisville, the Orange trailed by 32 entering halftime. Saturday in Raleigh, the three-touchdown deficit wasn’t as significant, but the Orange had still created too steep of a hill to climb in order to get to their sixth win this season.
Six of Syracuse’s 11 games this year have featured scoreless first quarters. The Orange have not started quickly this season, and Saturday against the Wolfpack — despite a critical situation where SU knew the importance of a win — was no different.
The defense held in the first quarter, but the offense only handed the ball to Tucker once in the first quarter (three-yard loss). Through two drives, SU had only generated 12 yards of offense. The second series was a 10-play drive from the Orange, but that was courtesy of three straight third-down penalties by the Wolfpack. They were flagged for roughing the passer on 3rd-and-8, and then again on third-and-13 after Shrader dropped the snap. A pass interference call saved a fourth-down incompletion from Shrader, but the drive still ended with an SU punt.
The Wolfpack started clicking with a handful of explosive plays in the second quarter and burned the Orange courtesy of a pick-six, kickoff return for a touchdown and a handful of deep passes that connected.
SU has been starting slowly all year, but the defense has typically held up and kept the Orange in the game. Saturday, the defense could only do that for so long before it gave up 14 points in the second quarter. The offense couldn’t get going either, and the Wolfpack’s lead only widened as the afternoon dragged on.
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