The optimism surrounding Syracuse football prior to Saturday’s game was deafening. The fans in Central New York predicted blowouts, shutouts and rarely anybody suggested Syracuse was going to lose. The Orange were able to cash-in on those predictions Saturday afternoon in their 32-29 win over the Boilermakers.
Syracuse found themselves down 9-3 after the first half, and it looked as though this ‘new era’ of ‘Cuse football was only going to last two games. Quarterback Garrett Shrader had other plans.
Ending with just 13 completions, and 181 yards, Shrader was able to drive the Cuse to a win behind three passing touchdowns. Shrader was not the same quarterback tonight as he was in each of the first two games. Despite his performance the result was far more important than the sub-par, quarterback box score.
“I think the biggest thing was routine plays, for me,” Shrader said. “I don’t think I could have played a worse first half, but I’m excited for the outcome. The defense really picked it up for us. Special teams as well. You talk about the togetherness; we could not have done it without them today.”
The first of his touchdowns ended a 16-play drive, late in the third quarter when Isaiah Jones caught his first touchdown pass of the year, making the game 10-9, Syracuse.
On the next drive, Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell hooked up with Payne Durham for the tight end’s first touchdown of the season. After the catch it was 15-10, Purdue. But a failed 2-point conversion attempt kept it a five-point game.
Three minutes later, the Orange were faced with 4th down and a yard to gain when Shrader rolled out right, disguised a play that left Gadsden wide open down the left side of the field. A 46-yard touchdown pass to the sophomore and a successful two-point try put the Orange up with 8:17 remaining in the final quarter.
On the first play of the drive, O’Connell was wrapped up by defensive end Jatius Geer, and on his way down he tried to throw the ball away. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, edge rusher Caleb Okechukwu snagged the ball out of the air and took it to the house for a pick-six.
The building erupted.
Syracuse has been preaching family since the beginning of the summer and that factored into the success of Okechukwu and the defense today. But as show-stopping of a play it was, the redshirt junior credits his football family for working together to get the win.
“Off the field I think this team is really together and we really care for each other,” Okechukwu said. It showed today. When we were down, and it was going back and forth, just pushing. Just saying that the game isn’t over until it’s over, and it wasn’t over until it was.”
The Orange were up 25-15 with just over eight minutes to go. But eight minutes was way too much time for the fiery offense of Purdue.
A two-minute drive, capped off with a Charlie Jones, 55-yard touchdown brought the game back within three.
O’Connell and his number one option, Jones, expected to have a field day with the aggressive Syracuse secondary—and did they ever. The Purdue play-caller connected on 38 of 54 passes for 415 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jones was responsible for 10 of those completions which was good for 179 yards and a touchdown.
Syracuse cornerback Garrett Williams was tasked with the impossible challenge of matching up with Jones, who was fifth in the nation in all-purpose yards entering today’s matchup. Although the sixth-year’s stat line did not make him the most efficient player today, Garrett Williams played a competitive game.
“What we saw was the first of many battles of our corners versus really good wideouts,” Babers said. “And some people are going to get help. Our safeties, we can give them help. Our linebackers, we can give them help. Our D-line, we can give them help. You will get no help playing corner at Syracuse University.
“If you really want to be on an island where you’re all by yourself, come play corner here because there is no one to help you. Sometimes their gunslingers are going to win and sometimes they are going to lose, but our corners normally win more than they lose.”
Six minutes later, another short drive from the Boilermakers ended in a touchdown, this time it was Durham. The Syracuse lead was squandered as they allowed 14 straight points with just 51 seconds left to score a touchdown.
Multiple penalties on Purdue in the final minute of the game gave Syracuse a chance to do something special with 12 seconds to go. As Shrader was knocked to the ground, he unleashed a perfect ball to Gadsden for a 25-yard touchdown that sealed the deal on the win.
It was mainly the passing game that found success today. The reason: Sean Tucker’s rough afternoon.
Just 42 yards on the ground for the preseason All-American. With him being the number one threat on the Syracuse offense, Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm, and the Boilermakers, made sure to always keep 22 eyes on the running back. But Syracuse realized that there are ways to win without Tucker’s dominance.
“I just thought that we have to be patient and Tucker has to be patient,” Babers said. “It is frustrating not to see him do what he’s done because we know what he can do. It seemed every time that we acted like we going to give him the ball, and did something else, good things happened to us.”
It just goes to show that as good as Sean Tucker is, the Orange do not need to rely on him as heavily as many people thought. With the focus set on limiting Tucker’s touches, the Boilermakers took their eyes off the talented receiving room in the second half, and that proved to be the most pivotal mistake for Purdue in the win.
The Orange begin the season 3-0 for the first time since 2018 and will play host to Virginia on Friday night at the dome.
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