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Six Takeaways: Syracuse Falls to Clemson

The Orange lost yet another game by three points.

Here are my five takeaways from Syracuse's 17-14 loss. 

1. Another Close One

Another week, another three point loss for Syracuse. That makes three in a row. On the one hand, it is maddening to be so close but not get the win. On the other, it would almost feel better to get blown out. Feeling like Syracuse is the better team but keeps losing these close games puts fans in quite the conundrum. While Syracuse has shown dramatic improvement in talent, depth and competitiveness, looking like another missed bowl season is a "so close, yet so far" situation. Those close losses do show growth, but ultimately the object is to win. And without wins, it is easy to grow impatient. However, that improvement is why Dino Babers will likely get another year. 

2. Syracuse's Offensive Line Was Not Overmatched

One of the most impressive things about Syracuse's performance in this game was the offense line. The defense deserves accolades as well, but the Clemson defensive front is elite. In the discussion for best in the nation. There are several NFL caliber guys in that group. Yet Syracuse's unheralded offensive line more than held its own. Shrader was only sacked twice and the Orange ran for 165 yards, the most given up by Clemson this season. Even with Chris Bleich leaving the game and freshman Kalan Ellis coming in, the line still performed well. 

3. Two Plays Decided This Game

This game, in my mind, came down to two plays. The Shrader interception and Clemson's fake punt. Either one of those goes Syracuse's way and the Orange likely wins. The interception was just a bad play. After a 54 yard run put Syracuse at the Clemson 30, Shrader was rolling to his right. He tried to find Damien Alford running across the middle, and Shrader's pass had no zip and was behind the intended receiver. It was an easy interception for the Tigers and that ended a chance for Syracuse to go up early in the game. The fake punt was just unfortunate circumstances. Clemson lined up in a weird punt formation that seemed to telegraph a fake. Syracuse left its defense out there to combat it. The throw from punter Will Spiers was high but also underthrown. Despite Syracuse having two defensive backs in the area, the underthrown ball was caught by Clemson. If that pass was leading the receiver, it is knocked down. That gave the Tigers a first down and eventually a touchdown before the end of the half. 

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4. Shrader's Inaccuracy and Those Drops

Shrader finished the game 17-37 passing. He was erratic with his accuracy and made some poor decisions. He had open receivers on slants where he threw the ball too high or into the turf. There was one play in the third quarter when he had Sean Tucker wide open over the middle, but held the ball that led to a sack. To make matters worse, when he made good throws, there were far too many drive killing drops. When you're playing an elite defense, you cannot do those things. There is no question that this offseason, Shrader has to work with a quarterback guru and work exclusively on his arm to try to improve strength and accuracy.

5. No You Don't Go Back To DeVito

There were many calls for Syracuse to go back to Tommy DeVito in this game. I think that is a disservice to both players doing that and would not be the right decision. Yes Shrader has his limitations, but let's not forget Syracuse was coming off of back to back games where the offense put up at least 30 points including over 500 yards of offense against Wake Forest. Clemson is an elite defense. Not a single offense they have played has looked good against them this season. Clemson is ranked second in the nation in points allowed. Struggling against that unit should have been expected. Going back to DeVito, when the offense has not played as well under his direction as Shrader's, is counter intuitive. You are then getting back to the two quarterback system, which proved not to work. Not to mention shattering confidence in Shrader. He earned the starting quarterback spot with three quality performances against Liberty, Florida State and Wake Forest. He should continue to be the guy moving forward even with his limitations. Your starting quarterback should be allowed to play through a subpar performance. 

6. The Szmyt Issue

Andre Szmyt missed the potential game winning field goal, a 47-yard attempt, in the final minute of Friday night's game. Szmyt has been a very accurate kicker up until this season, but is proving to struggle beyond 40 yards. He is now 6-6 inside of 40 and 1-5 beyond it. For his career, Szmyt is making 95.7% of his kicks inside of 40 yards but just 62.0% from 40-plus. While I understand the trust is Szmyt, I think it is time for that trust to be conditional. Inside of 40 yards, trot him out there every time. Outside of it, use caution until he proves more consistent. That is why the decision to kick it will be questioned. The counter to that is that Clemson's defense is one of the best in the nation at stopping the run. However, the Orange had success on the ground. I think Syracuse fans would have lived with the outcome a little easier being aggressive and going for fourth and one, but missing, than the way the field goal played out. 

BONUS: This is more of a personal takeaway. I am extremely lucky and grateful to able to cover the team from my home town. Doing so, however, does mean I do not often get to go to a game and sit in the stands. Enjoy the game, the atmosphere, etc as I have responsibilities with covering the team. Friday night I was able to do go and sit in the stands, just enjoy watching a football game. To make it even better, I was able to do so with my dad. Something we often did when I was growing up that fostered my love for sports. It was incredibly fun. The game was entertaining. The atmosphere was electric. I had a blast. I am so thankful I was able to have that time with my dad.