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Five Takeaways: Syracuse Falls at NC State

What to make of the Orange's loss.

Here are my five takeaways from Syracuse's 41-17 loss at NC State. 

1. The Passing Attack

The passing was, once again, awful. This was not due to poor scheme, excellent defense, or receivers not getting separation. Receivers were open. Quite a bit, actually. Shrader just could not hit them. Perhaps the play that most exemplifies the passing attack was in the third quarter when Devaughn Cooper had no one within 20 yards of him and the pass was at least 10 yards short. Even a lob that was underthrown gives him a chance to make a catch and a big play. A solid throw results in a walk in touchdown. Instead, incomplete. If Syracuse is going to beat Pittsburgh next week, Shrader has to be better throwing the ball. No question. I am also wondering if the hit he took when making the game winning throw against Virginia Tech is still lingering to the point where it has exasperated his accuracy problems. Throwing accuracy was never a strength of his, but it was not this bad until the games following that play. 

2. Not Enough Sean Tucker

Sean Tucker averaged over five yards per carry, ran for over 100 yards and a touchdown. He only finished with 13 carries. That is about half of what he should be getting. It is no coincidence that the two worst offensive performances since Shrader took over were the two with Tucker having the fewest carries. Yes Garrett Shrader can run as well. But Tucker needs to be the focal point of the offense. Even when teams focus on him, he is still productive. He broke off a few 10+ yard runs against the best run defense in the ACC and did not get enough touches. I don't know whether this is due to audibles at the line of scrimmage from Shrader, play calling, game plan or some combination of all three. Against Pittsburgh, he needs 25+ carries. 

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3. Defense Was Not as Bad as it Appeared

The defense certainly had its struggles against NC State, but it was not as bad as the 41 points would suggest. Fourteen of those points were from a kick return and pick six. The defense still gave up 27, but played well enough to keep Syracuse in it if the offense was able to get something going. Devin Leary was sacked twice, Syracuse got pressure on several other occasions, the Wolfpack only averaged 3.2 yards per carry and the Syracuse defense held NC State to under 400 yards of total offense. Coverage on the back end was an issue at times as well, but this was not a performance like the Louisville game. It looked much more like the Syracuse defense we had seen all season. 

4. Punting Was Actually Solid

Syracuse averaged 41.1 yards per punt on Saturday. I think this was lost in the loss and performance of the passing attack. While James Williams was suited up and available, it was Ian Hawkins that got the nod and he had easily his best performance of the season. This following a game where he averaged 29.7 yards per punt against Louisville. Definitely a positive sign. Williams' absence, however, makes you wonder if he has been dealing with some sort of lingering injury that has impacted the power in his punts. 

5. What Now?

Two straight multiple score losses giving up over 40 points. So what now? Syracuse is 5-6 and still has an opportunity to earn bowl eligibility. It is the seniors' last shot to earn a bowl game in their final season. It is a night game against a rival (Pittsburgh), as it was announced that the game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. in the Dome. Syracuse has certainly played well at home this season, so perhaps they've got one final push in them. What happens beyond that? That is all up for evaluation after the season. This team has been tested mentally throughout the season. From the quarterback situation to the close losses that would have caused many teams to quit to the injuries and now the back to back losses. Can this team respond once again? Let's see how it plays out.