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Cardinal Crush: SU loses to Louisville 30-0 (Brent Axe recap)

Syracuse, N.Y. —With the clock ticking towards halftime and Louisville up 13-0 on Syracuse and about to punch in a touchdown, a consensus was reached by all those watching.

If Louisville scored in that spot, the game was over.

The magic of social media allows you to mark the digital tape on these things.

Louisville did score in that spot, on a four-yard touchdown run from quarterback Malik Cunningham, to take a 20-0 lead to deliver the knockout blow.

That’s where things are at for Syracuse football, folks. 20-0 leads at halftime are insurmountable.

The Orange would go on to lose 30-0 to the Cardinals on Friday night. I’d say that was before a national television audience on ESPN, but most smart viewers moved on to their Netflix queue well before halftime.

Syracuse fell to 1-8 with the loss, have lost six straight games and one of the worst seasons in Syracuse history is now inevitable with NC State and No.2 Notre Dame left on the slate.

Syracuse’s 10-win season just two years ago feels like two decades ago. Heck, a five-win season in 2019 sounds like a little slice of heaven.

Has Syracuse football hit rock bottom … again?

To hit rock bottom would suggest the Orange has stopped its fall. This feels more like Syracuse is floating in some sort of weird purgatory.

The Orange has certainly been ravaged by injury and opt out in 2020 and that has to be factored into the conversation. More than 71-percent of Syracuse’s active roster this season is comprised of players in their first two years of eligibility. You can’t win with a team that young in college football.

Does that excuse a coach with an offensive reputation having arguably the worst offense in college football?

Syracuse needs a quarterback, a functioning offensive line and a plan of attack that utilizes whatever talent it has on offense. Simply getting healthy won’t fix these issues.

Syracuse leads the nation in takeaways (20) and it hasn’t mattered one bit. The stat amounts to empty calories if the Orange can’t cash in the turnovers for points.

Syracuse has four players that have been in its secondary this season that are on track to play in the National Football League. What good has that done collectively for the Orange this season?

Syracuse was making mistakes in its ninth game of the season and out of a bye week, (a delay of game out of a kickoff?) that cannot be brushed aside simply as youthful mistakes.

Coaching has to be questioned here.

You know things are bad when fans are openly wondering on social media if SU should bother to finish the season and you can’t push back too hard on that theory.

Can Syracuse opt out of its final two games?

This is the part where I’m obligated to remind that basketball season is less than a week away.

Most SU fans have opted out anyway at this point.

The Dark Side

Syracuse at Louisville

Louisville Cardinals cornerback Kei’Trel Clark (13) intercepts a pass intended for Syracuse Orange wide receiver Taj Harris (3) during the first half of play at Cardinal Stadium.Jamie Rhodes

Offensive Offense

Syracuse turned in one of the most inept offensive performances in recent memory at Louisville.

The Orange managed just seven first downs, compared to 25 for Louisville, and barely broke the 100-yard barrier, totaling 137 yards on 41 plays.

Louisville throttled Syracuse on time of possession, holding the ball for 41:46 of the game compared to 18:14.

SU’s offense didn’t convert a third down until the last play of the game and went 1-of-10 overall.

Yes, Syracuse was starting a freshman quarterback for just the second time behind a porous offensive line and has a roster that has been depleted by injury and opt out.

That said, the Orange offense didn’t look like it belonged on a college football field on Friday.

It’s hard to imagine there is a worse offense in college football at the moment.

Syracuse ranked 123rd in total offense entering Friday’s game at Louisville, but the three teams ranked behind the Orange (Utah State, UMass, California) have played a total of 7 games this season.

Syracuse is also one of the worst teams on third down in college football, converting just 27 of 119 attempts (23 percent).

It’s stunning to see the lack of creativity, adaptation to talent or any attempt to spark some kind of production on this offense.

Why wasn’t Cooper Lutz targeted in the passing game at all?

Once again, Gilbert and Babers inexplicably refused to incorporate the tight end into the passing game.

Only four receivers caught a pass in the game. Anthony Queeley was the lone receiver with more than one reception (3 for 31 yards).

Don’t just take my word on the Orange’s offensive ineptness.

I was struck by the analysis of former Syracuse running back Damien Rhodes, who has coached locally at Fayetteville-Manlius and done television analysis previously on CNY Central’s “Orange Zone.”

I’d recommend you look through Rhodes’ entire Twitter timeline from Friday night’s game, but below is a brutally honest assessment of an offense that has fallen off a cliff.

Rhodes would know what that looks like as he played for a 1-10 Syracuse football team in 2005, an unfortunate mark the 2020 team is clearly on track for as well.

Morgan’s Mess

Syracuse at Louisville

Syracuse Orange quarterback JaCobian Morgan (15) throws a pass during the first half of play at Cardinal Stadium.Jamie Rhodes

The expectations surrounding Syracuse QB JaCobian Morgan took two giant steps back on Friday night.

Morgan looked poised and confident under center during the final offensive drive against Wake Forest and in Syracuse’s loss to Boston College.

Morgan made several impressive throws against the Eagles and offered a glimmer of hope the Orange had a diamond in the rough at QB sitting on the bench that only needed time to prove his worth.

Morgan fell back to earth hard against Louisville. The freshman looked overwhelmed by the moment and finished 5-of-12 for 40 yards with an interception. He was sacked three times.

Morgan’s confidence melted under consistent pressure from an offensive line that wilted frequently. The freshman’s swagger turned into stiffness as he struggled with basic concepts and was clearly thinking too much on the field instead of just playing the game.

As Rhodes noted above, I don’t think Babers and Gilbert did enough to free the QB on rollouts and motion to turn the freshman into a playmaker, but they see him at practice and know his limitations.

Even when Morgan managed to do the right thing it ended in disaster as a well-thrown pass to Taj Harris went through the receiver’s hands and into the waiting arms of a Louisville defender.

Morgan’s night ended when Louisville linebacker Yasir Abdullah glided past Airon Servais, hitting Morgan hard enough to knock both the ball from his hands and the freshman out of the game.

Morgan was evaluated on the sideline for a head injury. An ESPN sideline report initially said Morgan needed to be taken to a local hospital, but that thankfully turned out to be false.

It’s hard to see Morgan locking down the job in SU’s final two games against NC State and No. 2 Notre Dame.

The search for a quarterback to command the Syracuse offense remains.

Whether that is Morgan, freshman Dillon Markiewicz, Tommy DeVito in a return from injury next season or an unknown from the transfer portal remains to be seen.

Not So Special Teams

Syracuse at Louisville

Syracuse Orange wide receiver Nykeim Johnson (4) returns a kickoff during the first half of play at Cardinal Stadium.Jamie Rhodes

Syracuse usually turns in a solid grade on special teams, but Friday’s performance was a nightmare.

The Orange lost two fumbles on kickoffs against the Cardinals.

Nykeim Johnson fumbled a kickoff in the second quarter. Louisville took over on the 30-yard line and eventually cashed in a four-yard touchdown run to take a 13-0 lead off the mistake.

With 31 seconds remaining in the first half, Aaron Hackett couldn’t handle a squib kick and the Cardinals hopped on his mistake. Syracuse would hold off the Cardinals from scoring on a Ifeatu Melinfonwu interception.

In the third quarter, a dropped punt by Louisville was ripe for the taking but Syracuse failed to recover despite having a couple Orange players well within range to hop on it. Louisville would go on to salt the game away on a touchdown pass to Tutu Atwell.

Syracuse also inexplicably had a delay of game penalty following a kickoff, an unthinkable sin in college football.

The Sunny Side?

Syracuse v Louisville

Garrett Williams #14 of the Syracuse Orange reaches up to intercept the pass intended for TuTu Atwell #1 of the Louisville Cardinals on November 20, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky.Getty Images

It’s a short list of highlights for the Orange from a game in which it was shutout and embarrassed, but here are a few:

  • Freshman cornerback Garrett Williams continued a breakout season with a spectacular interception in the first quarter. Williams went toe-to-toe with Louisville’s talented wide receiver Tutu Atwell, leaping and tipping the ball to himself to give the Orange its first of three turnovers on the night.
  • Linebacker Mikel Jones had his third forced fumble of the season while Melinfonwu collected another interception. Syracuse has 20 takeaways on defense this season, a mark that leads the nation.
  • Freshman running back Sean Tucker averaged 5.8 yards per carry, collecting a total of 93 yards on 16 carries. Tucker is one of the lone bright spots on the offensive side of the ball right now.

Syracuse someone managed to find a legit No.1 running back in the darkness this season. So they got that going for them …which is nice.

This, That and the Other Thing

Syracuse at Louisville

A Louisville Cardinals fan reacts to a play during the first half of play at Cardinal Stadium.Jamie Rhodes

  • Louisville leads the head-to-head series with Syracuse by a mark of 12-7.
  • Syracuse was shut out for the first time since a 54-0 loss to Clemson in 2016.
  • The Cardinals have won six of the last seven meetings. Syracuse has not won a road game against the Cardinals since a 38-35 victory in 2007.
  • The Orange are 15-6 (.750) in their last 20 weekday games. Syracuse has a 6-3 Friday record under Babers.
  • Friday’s game against Louisville was just the second this season the Orange have played in front of fans. A limited-capacity crowd also watched Syracuse play Clemson.

Tweet of the Game

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