Was it perfect? No. Was it pretty? No. Was it what it needed to be to start getting back on the right track? Yes.
The Maryland loss was ugly. The Clemson loss was disappointing. A lot hinged on this past weekend’s matchup with Western Michigan and while it answered some questions, some others have been raised. But when we look back on it, what exactly did we learn about Syracuse football in its 52-33 romp over the Broncos? Well, that’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?
Tommy’s Got Wheels
Who the heck knew this before the game? One of the biggest questions heading into the season was how different the offense would look without the supremely athletic and multi-faceted Eric Dungey at the offense. Sure, Tommy DeVito’s arm is undoubtedly better than Dungey’s, but the improvisational skills and ability to extend plays and be a legitimate threat in the run game are the reverse.
Some thought it would be a good thing because a more traditional gunslinger fits the Dino Babers system better. Those same people were then probably begging for some explosiveness and running ability at QB when the first three weeks didn’t go to plan on the offensive side of the ball. They wanted to see an offensive explosion. They got their wish on Saturday.
On top of completing 77% of his passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns, Tommy ran wild against the Broncos’ D, tallying 105 true rushing yards (discounting yardage lost on sacks) and scoring a TD while averaging nearly 10 yards per carry. That’s not to mention the ridiculous 60-yarder he broke off to set up the first score of the game for the Orange. He’s certainly not as fast or as physical as Dungey was but seeing him show the ability to create some excitement and positive yardage with his feet is a welcome change to what many anticipated. If he can continue to be even slightly more dual-threat the rest of the year, only good things will come.
Something’s Got to Change for the Run D
The running game was great for Syracuse offensively, but Saturday’s game also showed that something simply must change when the other team runs the football, otherwise it’s going to be a long season.
The Broncos carried the rock 34 times for a total of 201 yards and three of their five touchdowns this weekend and that continues a dangerous trend. The Orange D currently ranks 105th (out of 130 FBS teams) in rushing defense at 193 yards per game. If you take out the -4 yards they gave up against Liberty in week one (which at this point seems like an anomaly), SU would rank fourth to last (138th) in the entire country in rushing defense, allowing an average of nearly 260 yards per contest against Maryland (354), Clemson (221) and Western Michigan (201)
That is not going to get the job done as ACC play gets underway. Heck, if WMU star running back Levante Bellamy didn’t have to leave the game with an injury, the Broncos could have wreaked even more havoc on Saturday. When we first took a look at what we learned from the win over Liberty, we saw the defense as a huge strength after holding the Flames to negative rushing yards. But now that the rushing D may only be better than Kent State, Georgia Tech and UMass, something’s got to give if SU wants to right the ship before conference play.
Don’t Panic Yet
In some ways, the social media reaction in the days after the Maryland flop and Clemson loss made it seem like the sky was falling. To be fair, that pair of losses back-to-back did not make a good case for Syracuse the rest for the rest of the season, but people were calling for Tommy DeVito’s job after just his third career start. Even Bear on College Gameday was looking at Western Michigan to beat the ‘Cuse straight up in the Dome. After the performance the Orange, and specifically Tommy DeVito, put together on Saturday, I think we can say that a lot of it was at least a slight overreaction.
As we said earlier, was this game perfect? No, far from it, there’s still a lot to clean up for Dino, DeVito and company, but there’s also a lot to look forward to. Tommy put on an absolute masterclass in the win and made it look like he actually has the ability to live up to all of the hype and expectations that have been heaped on his young plate. He looked like he could really be something special. You can take that with a grain of salt if you want to because it’s Western Michigan, but there’s no doubt it can only be viewed as a positive.
As for the rest of the season, the schedule really isn’t all that bad. You’ve got a cupcake this upcoming weekend against a Holy Cross team that’s been outscored 107-21 in its last two games against FBS opponents. Couple that with not having a game against a team currently ranked in the AP Top 25 (although Wake Forest received the most votes of any non-ranked school and Pitt just upset UCF) the rest of the way in the ACC, it’s still very plausible that Syracuse ends with between 7-9 wins. It might not be the 10-win outburst from a season ago, but it’s a whole heck of a lot better than three straight 4-8 seasons before it. It’s all about perspective, folks. Just sit back and enjoy the rest of the season.