Duke cut through the SU defense on its first drive with startling efficiency. Big runs from Deon Jackson, 3/3 passing from Chase Brice, and a feeling that something was different. Those who have followed Duke will tell you it was their best offensive series of the season. For Syracuse, it was the worst the defense had looked in a first quarter by far, and a sign of things to come.
In a game in which Syracuse won the turnover battle +4, it barely ever looked in it. Coming off a bye week against an 0-4 team, the Orange were outgained 645-286 in a 38-24 loss.
To add insult to injury, starting quarterback Tommy DeVito exited in the 4th quarter. The game was unlikely to be won when the redshirt junior exited, but his departure erased any doubt.
The first half was a shock for Syracuse. Most of the Blue Devil’s production came on the ground, as both their running backs eclipsed 100 yards in the opening 30 minutes. Peer at the total rushing yard statistic at your own risk: 363-28 Blue Devils.
The Orange offense started with a bang. Taj Harris slipped past press coverage on the outside and took a pass from DeVito in stride for a 79 yard touchdown. The Orange took a lead at the start of the second quarter, when third-string rover Cam Jonas popped Brice from behind, springing the ball loose. Geoff Cantin-Arku picked it up and jogged it into the end zone.
But that was the last we saw of SU offense in the first half. Drops became an epidemic. DeVito looked starved for time again in the second quarter. The Syracuse QB finished the half 3/11, after a 3/3 start.
“You can’t have that many dropped balls if you’re going to attack in the back end like that,” Babers said.
A roughing the kicker penalty on Cantin-Arku, questionably a flop, kept a Duke drive alive. They cashed in to take a 17-14 lead. The SU offense was so anemic, that not even three interceptions off a wildly inaccurate Chase Brice was enough to put more points on the board.
In the 2nd half, Tommy DeVito connected with tight end Luke Benson on a clever play action clear out. Benson used his eye popping speed for a 53 yard-TD.
Syracuse made a goal-line stand to close the third, and answered with a field goal to make it a one score game, but the reality remained this wasn’t the same Orange defense that gave UNC, Pitt and Georgia Tech problems. Jackson and Durant ran gleefully down the field for another Duke touchdown, putting the game on ice with 5:26 to play.
“We have to be better as coaches,” Babers said, “Obviously I didn’t like what I saw and we have to get better.”