The Morning After: Syracuse limping after 41-17 loss to NC State

The Morning After: Takeaways from SU's loss at NC State

The Orange (5-6) has one more chance at clinching bowl eligibility vs. Pitt on Saturday.
Published: November 21, 2021
Syracuse Beats Boston College 21-6
Sean Tucker, pictured here against Boston College on Oct. 30, broke Syracuse's single-season rushing record against NC State.

After winning back-to-back weeks against Virginia Tech and Boston College, the Orange (5-6) have lost consecutive games: first to Louisville and then to No. 20 NC State, 41-17, on Saturday.

At one point, Syracuse had three games left on their schedule to reach six wins and earn traditional bowl eligibility. But now, that number is down to one. And that team is the No. 18 Pittsburgh Panthers that will visit the Dome Saturday.

Sean Tucker rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Wolfpack. Tucker passed Syracuse’s single-season rushing record of 1,372 yards set by Joe Morris in 1979. Tucker ran for more than 100 yards for the ninth time this season and scored his 14th touchdown of the fall.

“I thought (NC State) was definitely one of the better teams we’ve played this year,” head coach Dino Babers said after the game. “(NC State) had a fantastic performance.”

No offensive momentum:

Neither school scored in the first quarter, but the Wolfpack’s offense found a groove faster than Syracuse’s. NC State outscored the Orange 28-7 in the first half. Last week, Louisville outscored Syracuse 35-3 through two quarters.

NC State immediately responded to Tucker’s score, SU’s first points, with a kick-off return touchdown on the ensuing play. Garrett Shrader completed eight passes for 63 yards and a pick-six. He also ran in his 14th rushing TD of the year in the fourth quarter.

“We thought it could be a game, but (NC State) had that kick-off return and then that interception for a touchdown in the first half which makes it difficult,” Babers said. “We have to execute at a high level, and we didn’t do that today.”

The offense has to give the defense a lead to defend:

Maybe this plays off the previous point, but Pittsburgh’s potential Heisman candidate Kenny Pickett has torched defenses all season. No matter how well Syracuse’s defense plays the Panthers, the Orange offense has to keep pace.

Syracuse has given up 41 points now in back-to-back weeks, which is difficult to overcome when the offense has averaged 10 points per game over that span. SU needs to incorporate a more balanced attack. Shrader needs to hit receivers, as they did in the 40-point performances against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.

“Our offense is the best when we’re balanced,” Shrader said on Wednesday. “Especially against Wake (Forest), we thought we were hitting on all cylinders that game. The biggest thing is don’t come out and try to be one-dimensional.”

Missing key players:

Last week, Mikel Jones sat out more than half of Syracuse’s loss to the Cardinals after being ejected for targeting. On Saturday, SU lost defensive lineman Josh Black and defensive back Garrett Williams, momentarily, to injury.

Black, a starter and one of SU’s sixth-year seniors, did not return to the game.

“He’s going to be okay,” Babers said about Black. “He’s done so much for this program, you want him to have an opportunity to do the things he wants to do at the next level after graduation. But when he goes down, he’s an emotional leader, he stayed on the sideline, he was a warrior and he kept talking to his position group trying to keep those guys up, so we really appreciate that.”