The two teams were tied midway through the fourth quarter when the Cuse went to their ground attack to score two late touchdowns in the 24-10 win.
"It was a really hard fought game," said Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren. "I thought both sides were very physical. For three quarters it was a back and forth defensive game. I thought both of us did a very good job.
"We just didn't stop their run in the fourth quarter."
How did the Pack fare in the loss?
NC State's offense moved the ball for much of the day... they just couldn't ever really convert. The Wolfpack had seven drives that ended up inside of Syracuse's 35-yard line but came away with just 10 points.
That won't get it done.
The Pack finished with 22 first downs (to just 15 for Syracuse), 355 yards, and held the ball for 33:21 minutes while running 95 plays. However, they were just 7-of-23 on third down, 1-of-3 in the redzone, and rushed for only 129 yards on 45 carries.
Quarterback Pete Thomas completed 17-of-35 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown (with an interception) before being knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. He had a couple of critical overthrows that could have been big plays, but there were a couple of drops as well.
State is playing without some major contributors, but it is what it is offensively right now... they are really struggling to put points on the board.
The Pack has totaled 14, 13, and 10 points respectively in their three ACC games. That is putting a lot of pressure on the Wolfpack defense.
Big plays can change the course of a game, and a few big plays is why Syracuse left Carter-Finley Stadium with a win.
First of all, the Pack's pass defense was outstanding (and the only reason why this grade isn't lower). They held Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt to just 74 yards passing on 10-of-20 attempts and forced two interceptions.
"Our goal was to make the quarterback throw to beat us," said Doeren after the game. "We didn't do that."
They didn't because they could never get a lead and force Syracuse to pass. It enabled the Orange to keep running the football, where they found success, especially in the fourth quarter.
The Cuse had 228 yards rushing through three quarters, and rushed for another 134 in the final period. They had runs of 18, 29, 30, 48, 55, and 57 against a Pack rush defense that had been strong all season.
Sure, State held Syracuse to 24 points, forced two turnovers, and allowed only 74 passing yards. But, the Orange rushed for 362 yards and was 4-of-4 in the redzone with three touchdowns.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
It wasn't a great day for the Wolfpack special teams.
Nik Sade missed a 51-yard field goal attempt but hit a 27-yarder. Punter Wil Baumann was solid, averaging 41.4 yards per punt with two downed inside the 20-yard line and just three return yards allowed.
However, the Pack allowed a two-point conversion on a fake extra point attempt, and Sade missed a wide open David Grinnage on a fake field goal that would have been a first down for the Wolfpack in the fourth quarter.
That was a big play in the game.
This was a tough loss for NC State, but it wasn't as bad as the loss in Winston-Salem.
The Pack had just four penalties... they forced a couple of turnovers... they moved the ball. They had their chances, but they never could string together a series of good plays to seize control against Syracuse, and the Orange did just that.
NC State just didn't execute when they needed to. They missed a field goal, couldn't convert a fourth-and-two for points, couldn't complete a pass on a fake field goal, couldn't sustain drives when they did venture into Syracuse territory.
"We just have to make more plays," said Doeren. "Obviously we have to finish the game better."
Perhaps we are beginning to see the effects of the lack of depth for the Wolfpack. They entered this game without contributors like Rashard Smith, Brandon Mitchell, Rob Crisp, Darryl Cato-Bishop, and Jarvis Byrd, and during the contest they lost Joe Thuney, T.Y. McGill, and Jack Tocho.
Think Cato-Bishop and McGill could have helped in the fourth quarter when the Orange were gashing State with the run? Think Rashard Smith would have been able to make a big play?
Either way, NC State is now 3-3 overall and 0-3 in league play. The bye week comes at the right time, as a few of those guys should be back for the next game... the problem is that will be on the road at Florida State.
"We are at the halfway point of the season and both of our quarterbacks are hurt," said Doeren. "We have a bye week at the right time and get some guys back. I think we will, and I look forward to seeing a lot of guys returned to the lineup because we need them."