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After Liberty’s antics following its win over Syracuse last season, Syracuse came into this matchup with a “personal” vendetta against the Flames. The Orange (3-1) delivered with their emotions on Friday night, edging Liberty (3-1) out in a close 24-21 battle.
Andre Szmyt hit the game-winning field goal from 24 yards, despite missing from 52 yards earlier in the game. Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader finished 6-for-15 on passing, with a total of 142 yards in the game.
Here are three takeaways from SU’s final nonconference game:
Shrader’s first start
Shrader started in his first game for Syracuse, taking over for Tommy DeVito who began each of the Orange’s first three games. Shrader saw the most time this year against UAlbany last season, when he went 11-for-15 for 190 yards, including one interception.
“I thought I played all right. I played rusty,” Shrader said after last week’s performance. “Being able to play, dropping back to pass instead of handing the ball off.”
Shrader took his momentum last week into Friday night, using his legs to make up for collapsed pockets early against Liberty. After a three-and-out on his opening drive, Shrader took the Orange down to inside Liberty territory.
On second-and-12, Shrader scrambled out to the right side of the field, sprinting towards the first down marker on the right sideline. One defender wrapped up Shrader, but another came, hitting the quarterback so hard that his helmet rolled toward Liberty’s bench. Shrader was hit again on the ensuing play, and Syracuse was unable to get any points on the board as Szmyt missed a field goal from 52 yards.
Shrader kept using his legs — and handoffs to Sean Tucker — to get SU to a first-and-goal. Six yards away from the end zone, Shrader ran a QB-keeper to the right side, stiff-arming one defender to get inside the 1-yard-line. He hurried to the line, leaping right after getting the snap for the score.
Unlike previous games, head coach Dino Babers didn’t shuffle between quarterbacks, keeping Shrader on the field in the second half. On Syracuse’s first drive, Shrader gave the ball to Tucker and a screen pass to Taj Harris for four straight plays. The pair helped the Orange get to the 14-yard line.
On first down, Shrader kept the ball on another QB-keeper down the right side for four yards. He faked a pass on the next play, rushing past the line of scrimmage again. Shrader broke through one defender before diving forward into the end zone to give SU a 21-7 lead.
But in the second half, Syracuse’s offense started to struggle, and the secondary was getting exposed defensively. With less than five minutes in the game, Shrader and the Orange took over the ball inside the 30-yard line. After Tucker was stuffed on back-to-back carries, Shrader took it himself up to the 16-yard line, sending Szmyt back out onto the Carrier Dome turf.
Stopping Malik Willis
Willis entered this season as a Heisman Trophy sleeper pick, according to Pro Football Focus. After transferring from Auburn, Willis had 240 total yards with two touchdowns for the Flames.
Against the Orange Friday night, Willis got off to a quick start again, using his legs on third down. Syracuse had a safety blitz on the play, but it came from the wrong side, allowing Willis to run down the left side of the field. He spun away from one defender, simultaneously stiff-arming another defender before getting the first down. Two plays later, Willis escaped another blitz from the Orange, running inside the 30-yard line. But Liberty kicker Alex Barbir missed from 36 yards, keeping the game scoreless.
Later in the second quarter, Willis connected with CJ Daniels for 5 yards, setting up a third-and-3. Willis dropped back on the ensuing play, but he didn’t see linebacker Mikel Jones, who was maintaining distance from the line of scrimmage in order to keep an eye on the quarterback. When Willis finally escaped the pocket, Jones was there, wrapping up his legs to send the Flames to a fourth down.
In the second half, Syracuse’s defense continued to pressure Willis, changing from its normal 3-3-5 to a 4-2. This allowed more pressure at the defensive line, causing Willis to have to make decisions even faster in the pocket.
But while SU took away Willis’ running lanes, Liberty started to torch the Orange in the passing game. On back to back scores, the Flames burnt Syracuse’s cornerbacks. First, Daniels streaked by Garrett Williams 23 yards for a touchdown. Willis looked to the other side of the field on Liberty’s next drive, hitting Demario Douglas 33 yards in the air over true freshman Darian “Duce” Chestnut to tie the game.
On the next drive, Willis targeted Chestnut again in the end zone, finding Douglas wide open at the edge of the sideline. The play was originally called a touchdown, but it was overturned after review, setting up a second-and-goal for Liberty. The Orange were able to stuff two runs, including one QB-keeper from Willis, trying to complete a successful goal line stand.
On fourth down Liberty went to Willis again, setting up blockers on the right side for him to go into the end zone. But Syracuse clogged up each lane, and Willis was forced to cut back. Linebacker Marlowe Wax and defensive lineman Kingsley Jonathan met Willis behind the line of scrimmage.
Ground and pound with Tucker
Tucker almost beat Jim Brown’s record of six single game touchdowns against UAlbany, finishing with five in less than three quarters. Although he didn’t come close to breaking any records on Friday night, Tucker continued to keep the clock moving with gains for the Orange.
“It’s the little runs that make a difference whether you’re going to push up for big numbers,” Babers said. “If you watch his 3-yard runs, his 4-yard runs, his 5-yard runs, he really ran really, really hard between the tackles.”
In the first quarter, Tucker worked on outside zone runs to pick up 22 yards, before getting a screen pass for another 19. On Syracuse’s fourth offensive drive, Tucker took the ball again on first down, going up the middle for 7 yards. Shrader moved SU to the 27-yard line after a defensive pass interference ball.
On first down, Syracuse motioned Harris to the right side of the field as the ball was placed on the left hash. Shrader faked passing to Harris, sticking the ball in Tucker’s stomach. Tucker took the ball and ran down the left sideline, untouched, into the end zone.
Syracuse continued to keep Tucker at running back, despite taking him out briefly in the opening half for Abdul Adams. In the second half, Tucker took two straight handoffs on SU’s first drive of the period. He picked up a first down, taking another handoff two plays later. Tucker mimicked his earlier touchdown, running down the left sideline for 19 yards. Although he didn’t get in the end zone himself, his gain allowed Shrader to use his legs for his second rushing touchdown.
Tucker took a handoff later in the fourth quarter, but after picking up the first down he didn’t get up from the ground. Tucker waited on the turf for a few seconds with an apparent shoulder injury before jogging off the field. He came back in on Syracuse’s final drive of the game.
The post 3 takeaways from Syracuse’s 24-21 win over Liberty appeared first on The Daily Orange.