Syracuse football falls short on comeback vs. Georgia Tech

SU football falls short on comeback vs. Georgia Teach

Despite a 19-point second-half rally, the Orange are down to their final chance to earn a bowl game bid.

Georgia Tech wide receiver Eric Singleton Jr. (13) attempts to catch a pass during the college football game between the Syracuse Orange and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on November 18th, 2023 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, GA.
Georgia Tech wide receiver Eric Singleton Jr. attempts to catch a pass during the Yellowjackets’ win over the Orange in Atlanta Saturday.

You can’t say that Syracuse didn’t fight.

Trailing by 21 points in the second half, the Orange mounted a rally that ultimately fell short in a 31-22 loss at Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday night.

Syracuse committed untimely errors and failed to capitalize on a pair of Tech turnovers in a game it could’ve won.

After catching Pittsburgh off guard with its new-look offense last week, SU did not have that luxury against the Yellow Jackets, who repeatedly stacked the box against the run game.

Syracuse also did not have starting senior quarterback Garrett Shrader, who only appeared to take a knee and hand the ball off on a play. Sophomores tight end Dan Villari and running back LeQuint Allen once again took most of the snaps.

Villari functioned as the quarterback for most of the game, completing all of his 14 passes for 59 yards. He ran the ball 12 times for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Allen once again went over the century mark, getting 120 yards on 27 carries and scoring twice. He also caught eight passes for 21 yards.

The Orange will now need a win next week to clinch bowl eligibility.

Here are three takeaways from the loss.

Comeback falls short

Down 24-3 early in the second half and without much use of the forward pass, it would have been understandable if the Orange folded into the Atlanta night. Instead, Syracuse scored 19 consecutive points in the fourth quarter.

Villari capped an eight-play, 71-yard drive, scoring from four yards out to make it 24-10 with just over 10 minutes left in the third quarter. The Orange had all the momentum for the next 15-plus minutes of game time.

Allen scored from one yard out to make it 24-16 with 3:51 left in the third. A botched snap on the extra point kept the Orange from making it a seven-point game.

With the defense getting stops, Allen scored from close range again to make it a 24-22 contest with 7:41 left. Forced to go for two, the Orange could not convert as Allen’s attempted pass on a sweep play fell incomplete.

Still, at the most important point of the game, Georgia Tech was able to string together its first sustained drive of the second half.

The Yellow Jackets applied the dagger when quarterback Haynes King ran in from 19 yards to seal the game with 2:22 remaining.

Forced to throw, head coach Dino Babers inserted third-string redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke MacPhail into the game. On his first pass, MacPhail threw an interception, sealing the loss for the Orange.

Yellow Jackets capitalize on mistakes, SU doesn’t

The Yellow Jackets were unforgiving when the Orange presented them with windows of opportunity.

With the Yellow Jackets up 7-3 facing a fourth-and-1 at their own 41 in the second quarter, redshirt sophomore linebacker Anwar Sparrow jumped offside, giving the hosts a free play and allowing the drive to continue.

Two plays later, King connected with wide receiver Dominick Blaylock for a 53-yard touchdown to make it 14-3.

The Orange received the kickoff to begin the second half, but freshman wide receiver Darrell Gill Jr. fumbled on the return, gifting Tech a short field. The Yellow Jackets duly made the Orange pay.

Another Syracuse error came after Allen scored to make it 24-16. Redshirt sophomore holder Jack Stonehouse was unable to handle a bad snap on the extra point. The failed try meant that the Orange would need a two-point conversion to tie things, which came back to bite later on.

SU’s defense forced two turnovers, but the offense failed to make either of the Tech mistakes hurt.

In the second quarter, redshirt senior cornerback Isaiah Johnson intercepted King, setting SU up inside the Georgia Tech 40-yard line. The offense could not gain a first down, and Babers chose to try a field goal on fourth-and-3.

When sophomore Brady Denaburg’s kick from 50 yards sailed wide right, it was worth wondering if Babers made the right call.

The future hinges on next week

Next week’s matchup against Wake Forest will determine more than Syracuse’s postseason destiny. If the Orange fail to beat the Demon Deacons, a 5-7 season likely means the end of the road for Babers.

A win over 4-7 Wake Forest could save Babers’ job and would make him the first head coach to take the program to back-to-back bowl games since Paul Pasqualoni in 1998 and 1999.

A 10-3 season in 2018 was the high point of Babers’ tenure in Central New York. But the program wasn’t able to build on that momentum, with 2022 marking the only other winning season for the now-eighth-year coach.

With the loss, Babers’ record now sits at 41-55. Even a trip to a bowl game might not guarantee his return for a ninth season.

The Orange and Demon Deacons will square off at 2 p.m. at the JMA Wireless Dome on Saturday.