Syracuse stunned Virginia Tech with two touchdowns in the final three minutes to beat the Hokies 41-36.
1. Garrett Shrader
236 yards passing. 174 yards rushing. Five total touchdowns. Garrett Shrader was spectacular as he seemed to will Syracuse to victory over Virginia Tech. There are just some things you cannot teach, often called "the it factor." Shrader has that. He is just a gamer who makes big plays in critical moments. Lost in Syracuse's close losses are the fact that he led Syracuse on a game tying touchdown drive late against Wake Forest and put the Orange in position to tie it against Clemson in the final seconds. Combine that with his touchdown pass to Damien Alford to beat Virginia Tech, he just has whatever "it" is. Now with the tangible, I thought he took a step forward as a passer in this game, especially in the second half. There is still a long ways to go in that area of his development, but Saturday should be encouraging.
2. Fourth Down
Syracuse was aggressive in this game, and it paid off. Syracuse went 4-4 on fourth down, each of which was critical to the final outcome. The two biggest ones were the first quarter touchdown run by Sean Tucker on a fourth and one, and the fourth and four that Shrader scrambled for just a couple of plays before the game winning touchdown. Syracuse even went for fourth and one in its own territory. It was good to see Syracuse play aggressive, going for the win, rather than being a bit conservative. There are times for the conservative approach, but Saturday was not one of them.
3. The Run Defense
The run defense had massive issues against Virginia Tech. A Hokies rushing attack that had just one run of at least 30 years all season had several against the Orange. Virginia Tech ran for 260 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, in total. Freshman running back Malachi Thomas came into the game with just 11 carries on the season. He had 22 for 151 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse. The Orange has to get that cleaned up especially with a Boston College team that runs for over 160 yards per game coming to the Dome next week.
4. End of First Half
At the end of the first half, Syracuse had a major meltdown. After getting the ball to the one yard line with 8 seconds left, Syracuse called timeout. That was not the issue. Out of the timeout when Syracuse came onto the field, there was a personnel issue that caused the Orange to use its last timeout of the half before running a play. That prevented the option of running the ball and having the ability to stop the clock if they were stopped. Instead, Syracuse threw the ball on first down, and then elected to kick a field goal with just five seconds left. The short field goal was then missed when Andre Szmyt's kick hit off the upright. It was just a catastrophic sequence of events. After the game, Garrett Shrader placed the blame on the players while Dino Babers placed it on himself. Whoever was at fault, Syracuse has to figure out those situations. Plays getting in quickly seems to be an ongoing issue.
5. Special Teams
Syracuse went the full range of emotions in special teams in this one. From Szmyt's extra point getting blocked (and returned the other way for two points) to the missed short field goal to short punts all afternoon, the Syracuse special teams were anything but special. The biggest issues are two fold. Szmyt has to get out of his own head. We know he can make short kicks like the one he missed. He cannot let the 40+ yard struggles impact his short kicks on which he is generally very accurate. The second issue is punting. Too many short kicks that result in the opponent getting great starting field position. It hurt Syracuse against Wake Forest in a game that went into overtime. A short punt gave Virginia Tech the ball in Syracuse territory in the third quarter, which led to a touchdown. I'm not sure how the punting issue improves this season, but it is a major weakness. On the positive side, Trebor Pena's 50-yard kick return on Syracuse's second to last possession gave the Orange the ball in Tech territory. That proved critical as it saved enough time for Syracuse to have its last drive.