Wake Forest ran for 190 and held the Syracuse passing attack to just 168 yards as the Orange fell in Winston-Salem 28-9 to fall to 2-4 (0-2) on the season. Syracuse ran just 66 plays and was held to 326 total yards, both well below their season averages.
The game started well for Syracuse and the defense was strong throughout. A bad snap on a Wake Forest punt created a safety, but even that could have been more. Two Syracuse defenders had a chance to recover the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Instead, they got two points rather than seven.
With Hurricane Matthew causing rainy and windy conditions early, the first quarter ended saw little offensive output and conservative game plans on both sides. The ground attack was relied upon by both squads, with minimal success.
The Demon Deacons got things going in the second half behind quarterback John Wolford and running back Cade Carney. They opened things up in the passing game a bit as well, and were able to find the end zone early in the second quarter. Syracuse answered with a one yard Dontae Strickland score, his first of the year.
But that lead was short lived as the Demon Deacons marched back down the field, capped by a Wolford scoring run. That's when another missed opportunity reared its ugly head.
As Syracuse was trying to run the clock down, Strickland found a huge hole on a draw and scampered 49 yards to the Wake Forest 12 yard line. Rather than calling timeout or spiking the ball, Syracuse hurried to the line and ran a quick play. Quarterback Eric Dungey tried to find Steve Ishmael in the end zone, but the ball was woefully underthrown and intercepted by Wake Forest's Amari Henderson.
As the rain dissipated, Syracuse's game plan largely stayed on the ground. They attacked through the air late, but were ultimately shutout in the second half. Every time the Orange found a glimmer of hope, something went wrong.
In the middle of the third quarter, Wolford tried to hit Carney out of the backfield on a swing pass. Syracuse defensive back Corey Winfield read it beautifully, broke up the pass with a huge hit on Carney that popped the ball into the air. Defensive end Jake Pickard was able to catch it for an interception at midfield.
Despite the great starting field position, Syracuse went three-and-out. Something they did on each of their three third quarter possessions.
But the Orange defense continued to stand tall, keeping Wake off the scoreboard. It remained just a five point deficit entering the fourth quarter. Syracuse started a promising drive early in the final frame and appeared on the verge of taking the lead back. A reverse to Brisly Estime set them up with a first down at the Wake Forest 36 yard line.
That was followed by a sack, incompletion and another sack before Syracuse punted the ball away. The Orange defense got the ball back by forcing another three-and-out. Syracuse then gave the ball right back on a drive that saw two false starts, a poorly thrown screen pass and a net loss of two yards total.
Everything completely fell apart from there, as Wake marched right down the field and capped off a 76-yard drive with a short Carney run. Syracuse's next possession saw Jordan Fredericks fumble, Wake Forest recover and return it the other way for another touchdown.
Late in the game, starting defensive end Kendall Coleman was ejected for targeting. He will miss the first half next week as a result.
The Syracuse defense forced two turnovers, held Wake Forest to just 4.5 yards per play, and shut them out in the third quarter and well into the fourth quarter. They did their job. It was the offense, in a contrast to the rest of the season, that did not get the job done.
A conservative game plan that saw 40 runs compared to just 26 passes, combined with an offensive line that could not protect Eric Dungey who was sacked six times and less than ideal weather conditions all aided in the loss. A disheartening one, especially for those fans who still had their sights set on a potential bowl appearance.
Syracuse next faces Virginia Tech on Saturday, October 15th with a 3:45pm kickoff inside the Carrier Dome.