You usually aren’t going to take away a lot of positives from your team against an FCS opponent. If anything, you will learn where your team’s flaws are exposed. That’s the predicament Syracuse finds itself in this week against Wagner.
That being said, this Orange team can use a lower tier opponent to fine-tune some areas before a crucial matchup against Florida State, as well as in preparation for the remainder of the season.
DeVito’s debut didn’t go exactly as planned. The redshirt freshman completed 4 of his 9 passes for just 42 yards and was sacked twice. He also failed to lead a single scoring drive, despite starting past his own 40 yard line twice and working into Western Michigan territory once. Safe to say, that’s not the way the most highly touted Dino Babers’ recruit on SU’s roster wanted his career to begin. Luckily for DeVito, he will likely see the field again against Wagner as long as starter Eric Dungey does his job and gets the Orange out to a comfortable lead. This game won’t make or break DeVito’s SU career. But it can instill a slight confidence into the fanbase if he comes in and shreds Wagner. He doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns in reserve. In fact, the flow of the game probably won’t allow for that many passing attempts. What he does need to show is efficiency. A 44 percent completion rate against a mediocre defense at best in Western Michigan last week is not a promising figure. I’m not ready to judge DeVito yet and surely won’t be after his likely appearance against Wagner. But he has to show that he learned from a disappointing debut and can handle the college game along with the Orange’s system.
For as good as the peripherals may look, the third quarter exposed a lot of flaws in Syracuse’s pass defense. Sure, the two interceptions are nice and puts SU already halfway towards its entire 2017 total, but the third quarter scare was something that an ACC team (especially an upper-tier one) will capitalize on into the fourth quarter. The Broncos’ Jon Wassink is no Ryan Finley or Trevor Lawrence. Heck, he’d probably finish in the bottom tier of ACC quarterbacks. But what’s going to stay consistent is the wide receiver skill. D’Wayne Eskridge runs a 4.33 40-yard dash time and Drake Harris has played big time football while he was at Michigan. That speed coupled with a lot more size and physicality is certainly on the horizon. It may not come this week against Wagner, who finished last season ranked 101st out of 123 teams in passing offense. But assuming that SU gets out to a big lead, this should be a high volume passing attack for a below average passing team. It’s hard to think the Seahawks will come out with a prolific aerial game, but the miscues will certainly be magnified.
Challenge Andre Szmyt
Last season, Syracuse was third in the nation in fourth down attempts and rolled the dice three times last week. But with an expected blowout game like this, there isn’t a lot of good to take away from excessive fourth down tries. First of all, you tip your playbook. And second, the challenge isn’t worth it against an FCS opponent. Instead, why not try to break in your new kicker in a stadium that he will spend more than half of the remainder of the season in? Andre Szmyt did all you could have asked him for against Western Michigan in an outdoor environment. Last week, there were three and a half times where the Orange opted to go for it or punt while in a field goal situation. The half came when there was a potential 56-yard try that Syracuse opted to punt on. Giving Szmyt the extra live reps and comfortability will help for the remainder of the season, especially given that the Orange should be in Wagner territory on nearly every drive. Last season, all of the Orange’s first five losses were decided by single digits, which shows how important a role special teams can play in 2018.
This matchup should give Syracuse a tune-up and confidence boost before its matchup against Florida State, who seems to be trending the other direction after getting embarrassed by Virginia Tech on Labor Day.