Syracuse Football: Here’s why win over Liberty is a season-defining victory

Syracuse football (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse football (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports) /

Syracuse football came into its non-conference showdown Friday night on the Hill with a red-hot Liberty squad deemed the underdog, both in terms of odds-makers and the general line of thinking among national analysts, commentators and even many Orange fans.

Simply put, most folks thought that the Orange would lose this battle against the Flames, who smoked the ‘Cuse a year ago for their first conquest of an Atlantic Coast Conference foe – ever.

Plus, Liberty has an explosive offense, led by NFL prospect and Heisman Trophy contender Malik Willis. Heck, a bunch of scouts were reportedly in attendance on Friday evening inside the newly renovated Carrier Dome.

Whether Orange players used their underdog status at home as motivation remains to be seen. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. Either way, with a new starting quarterback under center, and a defense that wanted to showcase its talents, the ‘Cuse built up a two-touchdown lead, only to see it vanquish.

Syracuse football scored a massive win against a tremendous opponent.

The Flames had an opportunity to go ahead late in the fourth quarter, but the Orange defense shut down Willis on a fourth and one from its own goal line, and later on it secured a critical takeaway.

Syracuse football would get the ball back, with an opportunity to seal the deal. Garrett Shrader, the Mississippi State transfer making his first start for the ‘Cuse at quarterback, had a huge run on this game-ending drive, and running back Sean Tucker did his usual thing.

The Syracuse football offense managed the clock well. Head coach Dino Babers called timeout with one second left. My heart was palpitating. And then record-setting placekicker Andre Szmyt kicked a 35-yard field goal as time expired to forge a monumental 24-21 success for the Orange (3-1) over Liberty (3-1).

What a showing for Syracuse football, as the team wrapped up its 2021 non-conference docket with a trio of wins and a ton of momentum. Next up for the ‘Cuse is a road trip to Florida State on Saturday, Oct. 2, in the ACC opener for the Orange.

The Seminoles are struggling, and I believe that Syracuse football has a legit chance to move to 4-1 after next Saturday’s league affair. That, to me, should spark some conversation about a potential bowl berth for the ‘Cuse.

That’s pretty darn good, considering that the Orange won a whopping one game a stanza ago. While some fans on social media couldn’t get excited about the Liberty outcome, I can give you several reasons why this result is big-time for Syracuse football.

First and foremost, it gets the ‘Cuse one victory closer to post-season contention. Plus, the Flames came into Central New York in 2020, amassed more than 500 yards of offense, and crushed the Orange.

Coming into Friday night’s encounter, Liberty had only lost once in 16 games dating back to 2019, according to a press release. The Flames were also situated just outside the top 25 in both major polls.

Tucker proved phenomenal, collecting 168 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. Shrader needs to give his passing game a bit of a boost, but he didn’t throw any picks, and he rushed for two touchdowns.

And, man, that Syracuse football defense. It held the prolific Willis to a mere 219 passing yards, per, and the defense made the key plays when it absolutely needed to, helping to pave the way to an upset of Liberty.

I said this on social media on Friday evening, and I’ll say it again. If you can’t get pumped up about this performance by our beloved Orange, then I don’t know what will make you happy.

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