Syracuse shutout Liberty 24-0 on Saturday in the 2019 season opener. Here are three things we learned from the game.
DEVITO HAS C GRADE FOR HIS FIRST START
In his first college start, Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito turned in a self-graded “C” performance.
The grade was a fair assessment, as DeVito threw for just 176 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions on 17-for-35 passing. His second interception was particularly frustrating with time winding down in the first half.
With 27 seconds left in the second quarter and the Orange at the Liberty 14-yard line, DeVito rolled to his right and forced a ball into double coverage, which was predictably picked off by Bejour Wilson.
The play likely cost SU at least 3 points and potentially more and went into halftime up 10-0. While it didn’t ultimately hurt SU’s bottom line against the Flames, it’s mistakes like that which may cost the Orange against stronger opponents like a week 2 matchup against Maryland or defending national champion Clemson in week 3.
But Syracuse head coach Dino Babers was more forgiving than DeVito in his post-game assessment.
“It’s his first start. He’s a gunslinger and he wants to go out there and take everybody on,” Babers said. “I’m sitting there going it’s cool to be a gunslinger, but the best gunslingers are old gunslingers. The way you become an old gunslinger is you don’t take everybody on, you take the guys on when you have to take them on. He’ll be more patient. He’ll be better in the next one.”
DEFENSIVE LINE DOMINATES
In the preseason, Syracuse’s defensive line was looked at as one of its top position groups. There was good reason for that, and it showed on Saturday night.
Syracuse combined for eight sacks and 14 overall tackles for loss, constantly harassing Liberty QB Stephen Calvert. Senior defensive end Kendall Coleman and tackle Josh Black led the way with two sacks each, while linebacker Kingsley Jonathan chipped in 1.5 sacks.
SU’s dominance extended behind just the sacks. When Calvert handed the ball off to his backfield, the Orange was already camped there. Liberty finished the game with -4 combined rushing yards.
“You’ve got to pick your poison with that front,” Babers said. “The thing that was really exciting is most of those eight sacks weren’t even pressures. They were just three man rushes and four man rushes. Just somebody beating a guy and getting home, which was really good to see.”
OFFENSIVE LINE STEADIES ITSELF AFTER FIRST QUARTER
On the other side of the ball, Syracuse’s offensive line had more of a mixed bag of results.
The Orange surrendered two sacks—both in the first quarter—before settling down. Once they were locked in, they made up for a down performance from DeVito, opening up plenty of opportunities for its running game.
Syracuse finished with 192 yards on the ground, with Moe Neal’s 89 yards leading the way. Abdul Adams (49), Jarveon Howard (32) also saw opportunities, and all three scored touchdowns.
But Syracuse didn’t escape the night without injury. Center Sam Heckel left with an upper body injury midway through the first half and did not return. He was listed atop the depth chart for week 2, but it was with an “or” with backup center Airon Servais.
With Heckel out, Servais switched from tackle back to center where he played all last season. Right tackle Carlos Vettorello moved to left tackle, and graduate transfer Ryan Alexander played with the starters at right tackle.
Still, Babers didn’t see the struggles, saying in his postgame press conference that the Orange didn’t have an opportunity to review any game tape of Liberty because it didn’t exist with coach Hugh Freeze in his first year.
“I tried telling you guys and gals all week we don’t know what they’re going to do,” Babers said. “It takes a while to adjust. Now once you get it on tape, it’ll be a lot easier on the next guy because they get to look at it and four days of preparation to decide exactly what they want to do and tell their team. We had to do it on the cuff.”