Syracuse, N.Y. — Syracuse football lost its first game of the 2021 season with a 17-7 decision to Rutgers on Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
The Orange (1-1) struggled on offense, made crucial mistakes that caused eight penalties, turned the ball over three times and made a few questionable decisions that resulted in the loss.
Check out the best and worst from the Orange’s loss to former Big East rival Rutgers (2-0):
Syracuse welcomed its fans back into the Carrier Dome for a football game for the first time since 2019 with a pregame performance by its marching band. The show included an array of songs and formations, including the SU fight song. Cheerleaders and dancers lined the sidelines close to the SU student section. The university’s singers performed the school’s alma mater.
A short tribute was held shortly before kickoff to remember the 20-year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. There was a moment of silence for 10 seconds before Syracuse team captains Taj Harris, Josh Black and AJ Calabro walked onto the field. Calabro, who was 1 when his father died during the attacks, was given a warm reception by the SU fanbase.
Best performance by Syracuse player
In a game that didn’t have any scoring plays until the third quarter, the superlative for best performance has to go to a defensive player. Orange defensive back Mikel Jones led the way on defense and showed how impactful he can be in crucial situations. He finished with a team-high 11 tackles (seven solo and two tackles for loss).
2021 Zunic Award
John Lusardi, a former Syracuse linebacker, was honored with the 2021 Zunic Award during Saturday’s game. During a timeout at the 9:53 mark of the second quarter, Lusardi walked out into the end zone near the SU marching band and accepted the award, created to honor Mike and Judy Zunic, who died tragically on July 18, 1989 when a United Airlines plane crashed in Sioux City, Iowa. Mike Zunic was a four-year linebacker at SU.
Best return: Fans!
Last week’s best return was Syracuse starting quarterback Tommy DeVito. This week, it’s even more obvious: the fans.
Thousands of fans, including a very active student section, filled the Carrier Dome’s stands for the first time since 2019. The crowd was loud, especially on third- and fourth-down scenarios. Dino Babers always references the SU faithful as the team’s “12th man,” and the spectators made the stadium noticeably different than last season. The fans cheered, but they also gave a few boos after Syracuse’s decision to punt on fourth down, trailing by 10 points, with seven minutes remaining in the game.
The dagger was when …
Syracuse trailed 17-7 with 7:25 remaining in the game when Babers elected to punt the ball on 4th-and-10, giving Rutgers possession for four of the final seven minutes of the game. The Orange got the ball back with 2:55 remaining, but its drive ended with a Tommy DeVito interception. By then, there wasn’t enough time to make a comeback.
DeVito and Taj Harris connected on a 51-yard hookup in the third quarter, which ultimately set up the Orange’s first touchdown of the game by Sean Tucker.
Best defensive play
Syracuse’s defense showed exactly what it’s capable of early in the first quarter with back-to-back stops on third and fourth down. It was crucial because Rutgers had just been called for an offensive pass interference penalty that nullified a touchdown pass by Noah Vedral. Caleb Okechukwu came up with a huge sack on Vedral, a loss of nine yards. Then Rutgers tried to go for it on fourth down with a fake field goal, but the snap was botched, and Garrett Williams tackled Adam Korsak.
Worst mistake by Syracuse
On 3rd-and-13 late into the third quarter, Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral connected on an 8-yard completion to Shameen Jones. The Scarlet Knights were called for a holding penalty, which ultimately would’ve made it fourth down. However, a personal foul was called on SU linebacker Mikel Jones for what the official deemed as a “body-slam.” Syracuse coach Dino Babers was penalized after having a verbal exchange with an official, gifting the Rutgers offense an extra 15 yards. One play later, Kyle Monangai rushed for 11 yards to score the first points of the game, giving Rutgers a 7-0 lead.
Syracuse had an opportunity to get some points on the board late in the second quarter, but kicker Andre Szmyt missed a 43-yard field goal with nine seconds left until halftime. A successful kick would’ve put Szmyt in a tie with Cole Murphy as the all-time leader in field goals with 59 makes.
After making his debut during garbage time of Syracuse’s season opener at Ohio, sophomore Garrett Shrader made an early appearance in Saturday’s game against Rutgers.
Starting quarterback Tommy DeVito was 7-for-8 passing for 65 yards at the time, but the dual-threat transfer from Mississippi State entered the game at the 9:53 mark of the second quarter. He rushed for two yards on the first play behind center and connected with Taj Harris for a first down before the play was negated by an illegal formation.
Shrader’s first drive in front of a nearly packed Carrier Dome ultimately ended with a sack. But on his next drive, Shrader showed SU fans that he’s capable of doing more than just running the ball. Shrader didn’t see the field again for the rest of the game, finishing 4-for-6 passing for 42 yards in the first half.
Syracuse will continue its three-game homestand next Saturday against Albany, an FCS opponent that has never played the Orange before. Kickoff is set for noon, and the game will be televised on the ACC Network.
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