Syracuse knocked off Liberty 24-21 Friday night inside the Carrier Dome. Here are five takeaways from the win.
1. The Sean Tucker Show
How good was Sean Tucker Friday night? Liberty knew he was coming and they could not stop him all night. They loaded up the box, it did not matter. He finished with 32 carries for 169 yards and a touchdown. Tucker ran through and around the Liberty defense. He also added two catches for 27 yards. The Syracuse offense is largely going to be predicated on his success, and that is OK. He should be the focal point as he is clearly the best offensive player. Tucker is special. You can win games riding him as the workhorse. The offense also tailored itself to taking advantage of his skills. The mix of inside runs, outside runs, RPOs, etc was well done and kept Liberty off balance for most of the game. The line seemed to enjoy the consistent run blocking and Tucker took full advantage. Liberty came in allowing just about 50 yards rushing per game. Syracuse ran for 228.
2. The Defense is For Real
We all knew what we saw from the Syracuse defense in the first three games. It looked faster, more athletic, more aggressive and a huge step forward from last season. But this game against Liberty was a different test. A dual threat quarterback who is in the discussion as the nation's best signal caller. A legitimate first round NFL Draft Pick type of talent. And yet, Syracuse's defense dominated for three quarters and then made the plays necessary down the stretch to win the game. Mikel Jones was fantastic. Willis was sacked six times in this game by a relentless Orange pass rush. Liberty came in averaging 37 points per game, but scored only 21 against Syracuse. Liberty came in averaging over 435 yards of total offense per game. Syracuse held the Flames to 369. Liberty had not turned it over in the first three games. The Orange defense forced the game changing fumble late in the fourth quarter. This Syracuse defense is fun to watch.
Cody Roscoe also deserves a shout out. He forced the aforementioned fumble and has 4.5 sacks on the season, had two more against Liberty and has been a relentless high motor guy when in the game. He may not start, but Roscoe has been an integral part of the defensive line and its success.
3. Mixed Reviews for Garrett Shrader & the Need for Better Snaps
Shrader did a nice job running the offense for stretches of the game, especially in the RPO game in the first half and early third quarter. But then the offense hit a wall. Shrader struggled with accuracy on even some short passes and that limited the way the offense could operate. If he is the guy moving forward, he has to become at least a functional passer to prevent teams from putting nine in the box to stop Tucker. So while Shrader ran well at times, he also struggled throwing the ball. That will be a critical area for him to improve in order for the offense to take the next step.
Also, I am not sure what was up with the snaps in this game, but it was about as bad as I've seen it at Syracuse. The surprising thing is that Airon Servais has a lot of snapping experience. I do not recall this being an issue in the past with him. But that cannot be the norm. That has to get better.
4. A Clean Game
A major area of criticism for this year's squad, and even Dino Babers' teams at Syracuse in general, has been penalties. Syracuse had a few early, but had a rather clean game in that aspect. Syracuse committed just five penalties for 37 yards. Also, the Orange did not turn it over. Syracuse did what was needed to win the game and avoided critical mistakes. Encouraging.
5. Critical Win
The difference between 3-1 and 2-2 is enormous. This was a major win for the direction of the season, for the program, for Dino Babers and for the fans. Liberty is a very good team. They will likely win nine or 10 games this season, would have been ranked with a win Friday, and could be by the end of the year. It is the first winning streak for Syracuse since 2019. Not only a big win due to beating a good team, but also to bring some positivity to the program. Now the Orange has to build on it.