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Andre Szmyt looked to the sideline and saw his teammates charging onto the field in celebration. He said he thought he was tackled by running back Cooper Lutz after splitting the uprights, but then everyone jumped on top of him in joy after his 35-yard field goal lifted Syracuse to a 24-21 victory over Liberty and to 3-1 on the season.
“It was not fun,” Szmyt said when asked about the celebration. “Everyone just piled on.”
“I was just watching him,” starting quarterback Garrett Shrader said in response. “You can’t win in that situation because he’s not gonna outrun half the kids on our team, so he chose to be on the bottom of the pile.”
The attempt marked the 61st make of Szmyt’s Syracuse career. He hasn’t found the same consistency or accuracy that he possessed during his 2018 Lou Groza Award winning season, with a 43-yard miss against Rutgers that Babers later criticized as costly and another 52-yard miss during the first quarter of Friday’s game.
But last week, his two made field goals from 48 yards and 28 yards lifted him past Cole Murphy to make him Syracuse’s all-time leader in made field goals. Babers told the story of when Szmyt earned a scholarship as a walk-on during his freshman season, and he recalled when Sterling Hofrichter told him that Szmyt was a better kicker than he was. On Friday night, Szmyt added to that record-breaking total when he booted the first game-winning field goal of his Syracuse tenure.
“It feels good,” Szmyt said after the game. “This is my first game-winner in four years so it feels good but I’ve been doing the same thing since my freshman year, just doing whatever I can to help the team win.”
The chance to score the field goal arose when Liberty quarterback Malik Willis was hit by Marlowe Wax and Cody Roscoe with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. The score was tied 21-21, and Liberty was backed up in its own half of the field. The Orange defenders combined for the strip sack, and linebacker Mikel Jones fell on the loose ball.
From there, it would’ve been a near-50 yard field goal attempt for Szmyt. Earlier in the game, the kicker came out for a similar attempt from 52 yards. It went short in terms of distance and wide-left. The rest of the game, in between kickoffs and extra points, he stood on the sideline and watched.
“Any kicker needs to have a short-term memory loss,” Szmyt said. “Kinda forgetting about that 52-yarder … and just going out and hitting that field goal.”
With possession after the fumble recovery, Syracuse’s plan was to chew the clock and set up Szmyt, Shrader said. Sean Tucker rushed for a gain of eight, and then one, before Shrader burst through a small hole for a gain of two and a first down. Shrader rushed again for a gain of eight, and Babers called timeout with one second remaining on the clock. The biggest emphasis was on not losing yards, Shrader said, though it worked out better than expected since the Orange gained 13 yards of field position.
All this time, Szmyt had been nailing shots into the kicking net that sits along the East sideline of the Carrier Dome. A couple teammates told him to be ready since they knew that it would likely come down to his right foot. Szmyt knew too.
“I had that feeling that it was gonna come down to me so I was getting ready as soon as we got the turnover,” he said.
Liberty called timeout before Szmyt could get the initial kick off, so the kicker had additional time to think about the high-pressure situation while standing on the field. He said he wasn’t thinking about it a lot when they “iced” him by calling a timeout.
Teammates tried to talk to him, and they told him “Hey, don’t worry about it, you got it,” he said. Abdul Adams reassured him that it’d be fine because it’s something he’s been doing his whole life, Szmyt said. People told him “no pressure,” which he said didn’t really help. For Szmyt, he said the important thing was to just focus on doing his “own thing.”
“It’s just natural for me,” Szmyt said. “I just go out there and do my thing no matter what anyone says or if they call timeout or don’t. I still do my job.”
Syracuse had what Szmyt described as “a bitter taste in our mouth” ever since Liberty upset SU in the Carrier Dome last fall. The Flames celebrated to the song “Empire State of Mind” and took photos on the field after the program earned its first-ever win over an ACC opponent in 2020.
So when the moment arrived, a 35-yard try from the center hash, Szmyt said he “kinda blacked out.” He said he didn’t really remember the kick itself, something that hasn’t happened on other field goals for him. The pressure affiliated with the game-winning kick changed that, but Szmyt still delivered what Shrader called “a great kick.”
“It’s the same thing that I’ve been doing in practice, every game, my whole career so I just knew I had to do the same swing, same stuff,” Szmyt said. “I knew Bo (long snapper Aaron Bolinsky) was gonna be ready, I knew (holder) Mike (Midkiff) was gonna hold the ball for me right.”
The game was won when…
Szmyt hit the field goal. Syracuse held a 21-7 lead in the third quarter when Shrader ran the ball into the end zone from the 10-yard line to cap off a 74-yard drive downfield. But the Orange then watched that lead dissipate as the offense stalled out for much of the second half. Still, with 4:21 remaining in regulation and a chance to march downfield, bleed the clock and win the game on a field goal, Willis coughed the ball up when he was hit by Wax and Roscoe. Jones fell on the loose ball, Babers ran the clock all the way down to one second — a sight that made Syracuse fans nervous — and then Szmyt drilled his first-ever game winner.
Quote of the night: Dino Babers on Garrett Shrader
Shrader finished 6-of-15 for 77 yards, in addition to 65 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground. Postgame, after Shrader’s first career start for Syracuse, Babers reflected on the Mississippi State transfer’s performance.
“Garrett did the things we asked him to do,” Babers said. “One thing when you’re on the team and Sean Tucker is running the ball the way he is, that our No. 1 job is to find ways so he gets the ball.”
Stat to know: 5
Penalties have been a struggle for the Orange, particularly over the last two weeks when SU had eight against Rutgers and then matched that total in one half against UAlbany. The Orange seemed to be off to a rough start when their first quarter featured a false start on third down of the opening drive, a holding penalty and another false start. But Syracuse showed more discipline throughout the rest of the game, and it finished with five total penalties.
Liberty, on the other hand, was flagged for seven penalties, one being an untimely pass interference call in the second quarter which led to a Tucker touchdown run.
Game ball: Sean Tucker… and also Marlowe Wax
Sean Tucker is the obvious choice here. Syracuse fans held their breath when he went down during the second half and lay on his back for multiple moments, but they erupted when he returned to the field. Chants for “MVP” rang through the Carrier Dome as Tucker walked off the field under his own power after taking that big hit. He was Syracuse’s entire offense — responsible for 196 of 228 total offensive yards.
But beyond Tucker, Marlowe Wax played a complete game with four solo tackles and three sacks. Wax combined with Roscoe to force Willis’ fumble late in the fourth quarter, the play that set up the game-winning field goal. Wax also sacked Willis midway through the third quarter on a third down, and once more earlier that quarter.
“He’s a real dog,” Jones said of Wax. “He knows exactly what he needs to do to get better, and he did it all offseason. I watched him work hard all offseason — (he’s) definitely (at) a better level than last year.”
Three final points
Halfway to a bowl game? In purely technical terms, yes, Syracuse is halfway to the six wins it needs to be eligible for a bowl game. But two of those three wins were over Ohio — a Mid-American Conference team — and UAlbany — a Football Championship Subdivision team. At 3-1 overall, the Orange look good on paper right now, and they have a good chance to improve to 4-1 at Florida State next week. But the offense is still extremely one-sided, and without Sean Tucker, the passing game has been stagnant. The defense is consistent, but as was evident against Rutgers, that doesn’t mean much unless SU can put points on the board. A win over Florida State is likely, but matchups with Louisville, Pitt and Boston College will be much more contentious.
Shrader throwing the deep ball: This is one area where Tommy DeVito clearly has the edge on the Mississippi State transfer. On the first play of the game, Shrader missed Damien Alford on a deep shot where the freshman wide receiver had established separation over the top. DeVito connected with Alford on a long bomb last week against the Great Danes, but that was a lower-tier defense. Shrader missed a handful of other mid- to long-range chances during Friday night’s game. On one, he missed Taj Harris by a wide mark near the right sideline in the red zone, but Harris walked away from the play pointing to his own jersey as if to suggest he ran the wrong route.
“We had a shot with Damien, we missed the shot, that could’ve been seven. We had a shot with Taj, we missed a shot, that could’ve been 14. We came back later and Damien was there, he didn’t run a great route,” Babers said postgame. “All three of those shots could have ended with 21 more points and now it’s a different game.”
Whether it’s a matter of chemistry or an attribute that Shrader simply doesn’t possess with his arm, this will certainly be something that Babers and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert discuss with the quarterback this week. Babers said the quarterback decision was made late — in the hotel right before the game.
“We need to throw the ball better,” Babers said. “In dealing with quarterbacks and certain football teams, you have to have standards. And the standards can’t change. You can’t settle for things.”
Despite limited time, Abdul Adams looked solid. Adams’ stats don’t jump off the page: two carries for 10 yards, and one catch for 11. After opting out of the 2020 season, the redshirt senior hadn’t had any meaningful carries through the first three games of the season — he played during garbage time against Ohio and again against UAlbany. But Friday night against the Flames, Adams came in during a first quarter series and had a shifty, 10-yard rush. He provided a chance of pace from the Sean Tucker-centric offense, and it seemed to throw the Liberty defense off, at least temporarily. He caught a checkdown and went for an 11-yard run on that same series, again highlighting his elusiveness.
Babers has emphasized the Orange’s depth at running back, and Airon Servais said the same thing. Adams is no Sean Tucker, but he provides a fresh look to an SU offense that could be beneficial on occasion.
Next up: Florida State
Syracuse travels to Florida State to open Atlantic Coast Conference play on Saturday afternoon. The Seminoles have lost to Wake Forest and No. 12 Notre Dame, but one defeat came 20-17 against a Football Conference Subdivision team — Jacksonville State. The Seminoles sit at the bottom of the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and might be SU’s most legitimate shot at a much coveted conference victory.
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