3 takeaways from Syracuse football’s 31-6 loss to North Carolina

Babers UNC
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers speaks with the media following the Orange's 31-6 loss at North Carolina.

Syracuse was routed 31-6 in its opener against North Carolina on Saturday. Here are three takeaways from the loss:

NEW DEFENSE SHOWS PROMISE

You could have forgiven Syracuse’s defense if they had looked out of sorts on Saturday.

Without the benefit of a full spring practice or an extended summer camp, the Orange trotted out a new 3-3-5 scheme under the direction of a new defensive coordinator against North Carolina (a team that is considered to be one of the top offenses in the ACC this year).

But SU’s defense looked more polished than expected through the first three quarters, holding the Tar Heels to 10  points before fatigue and an impotent offense gave way to 21 unanswered fourth quarter points. While the score read 31-6 at the end, the game was far closer than what the scoreboard showed.

Syracuse forced two interceptions, including an pick from Andre Cisco, SU’s All-American safety.

But Cisco is one of SU’s most established and heralded defensive backs. The Orange worked in a variety of underclassmen in key positions, and for the most part, they impressed.

DBs Garret Williams and Neil Nunn, and LBs Stefon Thompson and Steve Linton are all players who are getting experience as they go, and proved they will be key components to a successful defense moving forward.

“There were some big plays, but a lot of that was mental too. They wore us down a little bit,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “But those 70 plays for us was the most live plays we put in since […] 2019.”

Babers believes the defense will only get better, though it’ll take some time for the defense to truly shine.

“In 2-3 weeks, you’re going to see a better defense, as long as they stay healthy,” Babers said. “I was encouraged with what I saw defensively.”

OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES CONTINUE

Babers may not be able to say the same about the offense. Syracuse mustered only six points with a patchwork offensive line keeping quarterback Tommy DeVito under duress all day. Redshirt junior guard Dakota Davis is injured Babers confirmed during postgame, and SU found out earlier in the week that Florida transfer Chris Bleich will be forced to sit out a transfer year.

DeVito was sacked seven times on Saturday, and completed just 13 of 31 passes for 112 yards before giving way to backup Rex Culpepper in the fourth quarter. The running game was just as anemic, with Jawhar Jordan and Markenzy Pierre rushing a combined 19 times for 38 yards.

Things got so bad in the second half that SU had four straight three-and-outs, as UNC finally put some points on the board against an exhausted defense.

It didn’t seem like new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert made much of an impact on the offense, and in particular, he needs to involve his tight ends moving forward. The tight ends didn’t catch a single pass all afternoon.

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“It’s going to be like this a little bit,” Babers said. “I’ve told people back home, ‘I don’t know what we have.’ We’re starting to get an inkling. It’s going to take two more games to figure out who is playing in and playing out of position. And then somewhere around game 4 we’re going to settle in and get this thing rolling.”

TOO MANY MISTAKES

It wasn’t as if Syracuse didn’t have its chances. Syracuse left 17 points on the field because of miscues in the first half.

An illegal block from Drew Tuazama brought back Nykeim Johnson’s punt return for a touchdown. Sharod Johnson simply dropped a touchdown pass. Lou Groza winner Andre Szmyt missed a chippie field goal to end the first half.

If you’re trying to upset the No. 18 team on the road, those are miscues that can’t happen. And execution of those plays may have led to a different (if not closer) result.

“We have to be able to execute,” Babers said. “The timing was a little bit off. You had some guys in the end zone and put some balls on the ground. A couple of the balls they caught and just fell down.”

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2597 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.