NEW YORK — With 4:59 left in the second quarter, Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito surveyed the field and spotted wide receiver Taj Harris open on a crossing pattern.
With Syracuse trailing by just 13 points, DeVito knew this was his chance to inch the Orange closer to the No. 3 Fighting Irish as he unleashed a perfect spiral that hit Harris in the chest.
But Harris bobbled the catch momentarily, and Alohi Gilman ripped it from Harris’ outstretched arms. Gilman returned it 54 yards to the Syracuse 9-yard line, igniting a mostly pro-Notre Dame crowd.
One play later, the Irish punched it in for a touchdown, giving them a 20-0 lead and complete control of the game, in what ended up being a 36-3 rout on a chilly Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
It was that kind of day for DeVito and the Syracuse offense, which suffered a calamitous event seemingly on every drive.
“You have to give [Notre Dame] credit,” DeVito said. “They just played an all around well game. They just outplayed us today.”
Disaster struck right away. With six minutes to go in the first quarter, Eric Dungey took a keeper for four yards and bounced up like he has so many times in the past.
But as he was calling a new play from the line of scrimmage, Dungey doubled-over in pain, grabbing at his back before collapsing to the turf. He was helped off the field, and DeVito played the rest of the way.
“I just tried to do my job and get the offense started,” DeVito said.
Instead, Notre Dame immediately pounced on the redshirt freshman, stifling two deep throws to his receivers and forcing a punt. On the ensuing series, Devito threw the first of two interceptions on the afternoon.
DeVito was under duress for much of the day, and was sacked six times. Even when he wasn’t sacked, he was chased from the pocket, frequently electing to throw the ball away. He finished 14 of 31 passing for just 105 yards.
“There were a lot of throws where Tommy’s just throwing the ball away,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “He’s not being inaccurate, he’s looking, he’s looking, there’s nobody open, the rush is getting close and he’s putting the ball out of bounds, saving down and distance so we can have another opportunity on the next down.”
DeVito, of course, was not the only young player to struggle.
Nykeim Johnson dropped what was a perfectly placed touchdown pass from DeVito and had just two receptions for -1 yards. Harris, as mentioned before, bobbled an interception (though he did lead SU with 78 receiving yards), while Sean Riley had a quiet afternoon as well (four receptions, 15 yards).
“For the most part our veterans played extremely well on three sides of the ball, offense, defense and special teams,” Babers said. “But you start going back to our young people and it was not good. They did not handle the surroundings well. It was disappointing.”
DeVito saw it mostly the same way, as his team was outgained in total yards (463-234), passing (292-115) and time of possession (27:47 – 32:13).
“For the most part I agree with that,” DeVito said. “Not only the young guys, but some of the old guys, too. Sometimes [in] the spotlight, people freeze a little bit.”