Football

3 takeaways from Syracuse’s 38-21 loss against Liberty

Dennis Nett | Syracuse.com

In its loss against Liberty, Syracuse was once again doomed by a porous run defense and too many penalties.

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Syracuse (1-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast) fell to Liberty 38-21 (5-0) in its lone nonconference game of 2020. The Orange were dominated by the Liberty offensive line and struggled to stop the Flames’ rushing attack. The Orange had 241 fewer yards than their opponents and allowed over 300 rushing yards for the second straight week. 

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game:

Running game abysmal, again

Syracuse struggled to find an answer for the read option, as edge rushers and linebackers couldn’t decipher whether Liberty quarterback Malik Willis was running or handing the ball off. The quarterback’s speed was a constant threat for the defense, which head coach Dino Babers acknowledged earlier in the week. Willis only ran for 58 yards, but defenders had to set the edge, allowing him to hand the ball off to the LU running backs.

Even without starting tailback Josh Mack, the Flames rushing attack was dominant. The Syracuse defensive line was pushed off the line of scrimmage as Shedro Louis and Peytton Pickett combined for 285 yards. Louis knocked off two touchdowns of 50-plus yards in the first half. The first had a 75-yard untouched touchdown, and the second had multiple missed tackles.

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This is the third straight week that SU failed to stop the run. Duke ran for 363 yards and two touchdowns. Georgia Tech carried the football for 275 yards the game before. Ever since Andre Cisco left injured before the win against Georgia Tech, SU has allowed over 275 rushing yards in three straight games.

Penalties, penalties and more penalties

Trill Williams had just entered the game when he threw a Liberty wide receiver to the turf, drawing a personal foul penalty. That was one of 10 penalties for 80 yards. The Orange constantly committed ill-timed fouls and drive-killing mistakes.

Driving in the red zone in the first half, a holding penalty made a manageable third down a third and long. The Orange were on the 13-yard-line but were pushed back to the 23. Earlier, back-to-back false start penalties took Syracuse from the Liberty 42 to Syracuse’s side of the field, and a first down and ten became a first and 20.

The Orange committed six more penalties than Liberty and handed the Flames easy yards. This has become a theme for an inexperienced Syracuse team, as the Orange committed the 11th most penalties and the fourth most penalty yardage per game in the FBS.

The training table is crowded

Syracuse entered this game down its starting quarterback, guard and linebacker, as well as three running backs and two safeties. It looked like Williams was going to be added to that list. The defensive back didn’t start due to being “a little banged up,” a source told The Daily Orange, but he entered the game in the second half after safety Aman Greenwood was injured. He played the remainder of the game and totaled four tackles and one for a loss.

But even more players left injured, as freshman Ja’Had Carter was helped off with an upper body injury.

Without so many of the experienced starters, underclassmen are forced into key roles. And to this point, they’ve been exposed. Greenwood was burned on a long touchdown to DJ Stubbs. The Orange were in zone coverage, but Greenwood didn’t recover in time to cause an incompletion.

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