The most anticipated Syracuse football season in two decades got off to a great start on Saturday night with a 24-0 shutout victory over Liberty in the season opener. It was far from a perfect performance, but still a dominant win against a Hugh Freeze coached team is nothing to scoff at and the nice thing about it all is that we learned a lot about what to expect from the Orange moving forward.
The Defense is Legit
Dino Babers said it time and time again before the season. He was very happy with how his defense looked in camp and thought that it would be the strength of his unit come the season opener. We gave a little bit of healthy skepticism before the season got underway and asked the question, “Just how good can the defense be”. The answer? Apparently really, really good.
The Orange were dominant defensively from whistle to whistle and did a lot of things that hadn’t done in quite some time. Their eight sacks were the most in a game for SU since they got to Miami (Ohio) for eight in 2006 and everybody got in on the fun. Seven different players had at least half a sack for the Orange and three of them (Lakiem Williams, Josh Black and Kendall Coleman) had multiple. The defense also pitched a shutout for the first time since the 2015 opener against Rhode Island and for the first time in a true road game since 1991. That is flat out impressive.
The worry spots of interior defensive line and linebacker both looked fantastic and the secondary was also impressive with the further emergence of redshirt sophomore corner Ifeatu Melifonwu. Simply put, the defense exceeded even the lofty expectations. Maryland will be a tougher test in week two, but if they continue to look the way they did against the Flames, watch out.
Tommy DeVito is Not Perfect
Tommy Touchdown. The Golden Boy. The most highly touted quarterback recruit since Donovan McNabb. Those are just a few of the phrases that had been used to describe Tommy DeVito prior to the opener and the expectations going into the game were understandably pretty high. Unlike the defense, DeVito didn’t exactly live up to those expectations on Saturday.
The redshirt sophomore completed just 17 of his 35 passes (less than half) for 176 yards and tossed two interceptions in his first ever start. Some of that may be contributed to the pressure he felt early in the game, but there were other plays where he looked flat out panicked and made some really poor decisions. There were some overthrows as well which we knew could be a problem because DeVito has such a big arm.
To be fair, it was his first career start, but much like the Notre Dame game last year, DeVito’s performance at Liberty this past weekend proves that the transition from Eric Dungey to the young gunslinger is going to be far from perfect. He’s not going to be the perfect college quarterback right away which, with the hype that surrounded his ascension to the helm of the offense, might have been the expectation. He’s still very, very talented, just didn’t perform as well as you might have hoped against a first-year FBS team.
Dino Isn’t Afraid to Feed His Talented Backs
With DeVito’s struggles and lack of scoring output, the offense needed to come from the somewhere and the talented stable of running backs that the Orange boast this season is exactly where it came from. The trio of Abdul Adams, Moe Neal and Jarveon Howard each scored a TD in the 24-0 rout and were a much more integral and relied on part of the offense than they were a season ago.
All three backs carried the ball at least nine times with Neal and Adams each getting 14 totes for 49 and 89 yards respectively. We knew that this running back room had an opportunity to be a special one and much improved from a grouping that was at times very ineffective over the first three years of Dino’s tenure.
The performance and scoring ability they showed against the Flames on Saturday is a welcome sign and shows that even if DeVito struggles, Dino is going to be afraid to rely heavily on his talented trio of backs and it also shows that they’re not going to crumble under that pressure. For the first time in the Babers era, it looks like he offense has a chance to be very, very well-balanced.