After a solid victory over a team Syracuse had no business playing in Holy Cross, the bye week is upon us. Five weeks into the season, how does Syracuse’s offense grade out in our bye week report card?
Coming into this season the offensive line was a major question mark for Syracuse. And after five weeks… we haven’t seen much improvement. Even in the last two weeks against Western Michigan and Holy Cross Tommy DeVito was sacked four times. Western Michigan took him down three times. That’s unacceptable. Clemson sacked DeVito in astounding eight times, but the Orange won’t face a defensive front like the Tigers again this season.
First and foremost SU needs center Sam Heckel back. With Heckel back, Airon Servais can move back outside to give this unit more cohesion. Hopefully Syracuse can heal up over the bye week so it’s back in full force going into conference play.
It’s early in DeVito’s tenure as the face of Syracuse football but he’s keying in on his tight ends, especially in the red zone. Junior Aaron Hackett is off to a career year, with three touchdowns in the past two weeks. His emergence gives DeVito a 6-foot-3, 234 pound target over the middle with solid hands. Meanwhile freshman Luke Benson grabbed his first touchdown on a 70 yard catch and run against Holy Cross. While we’re not used to a Dino Babers offense utilizing tight ends, let us dream of two tight end sets (or 12 personnel) cruising down the field for easy Syracuse scores
Outside of Trishton Jackson, the wide receivers have been a let down so far (looking at you Taj Harris). Harris is averaging just 54 yards per game. The bigger concern is the lack of depth at the position. Last season four SU players finished the season with over 500 yards receiving. This year only Harris and Jackson are on track to finish above the 500 yard mark. Some of this is due to DeVito still growing at QB, and some is due to the lack of explosive plays. But with a turnstile offensive line, Dino Babers had to switch the offense to more quick passes. From there receivers just have to make defenders miss.
SU finally committed to establishing the run against Western Michigan when it ran for over 250 yards. Moe Neal is on track to blow by 1,000 yards from scrimmage – he already has 476 yards on the ground and through the air. He’s also capitalizing on checkdown throws from DeVito and has already passed his former season-high in receptions (13 from last season). Overall the running backs are averaging 120 yards per game, even with a beleaguered offensive line.
DeVito has performed about as well as I expected coming into the season. Sure I thought he would show off more of that arm that we were all waiting for. But at the same time it’s unrealistic to expect a first-year starter to come in and not make mistakes. Now that doesn’t excuse an interception where the defender was laying on the ground before popping up to make the pick. He needs to play better. He can’t keep rolling out to the right and turning the ball over. At the same time, he’s consistently feeling pressure in the pocket. While he has run into a few sacks, his pocket presence has improved from a season ago.
Syracuse is now getting the ball out of his hands quickly to counteract the pressure DeVito faces. If this trend continues, defenses have to stay on their toes, which opens up opportunities for big plays. And I’m expecting more long touchdowns the rest of the way.