How can Syracuse football’s offense improve ahead of Pitt matchup?

DeVito FSU
Tommy DeVito escapes the pocket during Syracuse's 30-7 win over Florida State. Mandatory Photo Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

Another Syracuse game and another frustrating performance from Tommy Devito and the offense. It may only be one game into the season, but it was more of the same struggles from last season. Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about how I still had faith in Devito’s potential. I believed he would eventually become the great leader of the Syracuse offense, much like Eric Dungey before him. I thought his arm talent would lead him to be even more dangerous in this fast-paced offense.

Unfortunately, it seems like Devito has stayed exactly where he was two years ago when he first started for Syracuse. His development has stagnated. North Carolina might have a talented defense, but completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes for an average of 3.6 yards per attempt is brutally inefficient. It was the fourth time since the start of the 2019 season he failed to hit the 50 percent mark. His yards per attempt were the second-worst average in the country, ahead of only Middle Tennessee’s Asher O’Hara.

While much of the Syracuse offense prioritizes getting the ball out of his hands quickly, Devito cannot seem to take advantage of when he gets to take a shot down the field. He has all the arm strength needed to complete long passes, but the accuracy simply isn’t there. The Orange has plenty of players with the speed necessary to generate separation on the outside. Taj Harris, Nykeim Johnson and Sharod Johnson are all capable of turning on the burners. Johnson did let him down with a drop in the end zone. On the whole, Devito has few excuses when it comes to his weapons.

Now that I have spent the last few paragraphs bashing Devito, I think its time to turn the focus elsewhere. He can’t take all the blame after all. He spent much of Saturday’s game running for his life. No other quarterback in the country took more than five sacks to open the season. Devito took seven. Some of that is due to his lack of mobility. However, his offensive line is abysmal and running game provides no help at all.

‘Cuse had the third-fewest rushing yards over any team in the FBS. Some of this is a product of Adbul Adams and Jarveon Howard opting out of the 2020 season. At 1.9 yards per carry though, Devito regularly found himself in second or third and long situations. With an offensive line that cannot sustain blocks, Devito does not have time to push the ball down the field very often or survey past his first option.

Recruiting along the offensive line continues to be an issue for the program as well. Former tight end Chris Elmore is starting at left guard as a result. For a Power 5 school to turn to an H-back to fill a starting position on the offensive line says a lot about how the program has done with recruiting and developing players in recent years.

At some point, the coaching staff has to factor into the equation as well. Dino Babers is a passionate leader with a very unique offensive approach. For a team that has an offensive-minded coach, the ongoing struggles are a major concern. These are all his players now. In Year 4, Babers has had plenty of time to shape the program how he wants.

In the end, the issues start with the offensive line. The lack of proven running backs is a product of the coronavirus and definitely an uncontrollable for Babers and his staff. Devito needs to a bit sharper and hit on some of those downfield throws, but he needs time to make them as well.

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One final note on the Syracuse offense. I would really like to see a change in the approach to recruiting quarterbacks. Babers’ offense ran best at Syracuse with Dungey under center. He was a true dual-threat quarterback, racking up over 750 yards with his legs during his senior year.

This Syracuse offense is not always the easiest to post a high completion percentage in, but Dungey made up for his inaccuracy with his ability as a runner. Every single quarterback that Babers has recruited, including four in the past two classes, has been a pro-style passer.

Having a quarterback with any sort of mobility can make a difference when you have an offensive line that is struggling. It does not solve everything, but it takes a lot of the pressure off the group if they know the quarterback is not just a sitting duck.

Devito averaged 1.1 yards per carry last year (keep in mind that sacks count as negative rushing yards in college). He clearly is not going to make a ton of plays with his legs. I think Syracuse might find a lot more success in the future with a quarterback who can scramble and extend the play when things break down. You don’t need to go find Lamar Jackson, but I think this offense would really benefit from a quarterback who could run.

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About Chris McGlynn 79 Articles
Chris hails from Westfield, NJ, and is a recent graduate from Syracuse University. He spent his college years playing for the Syracuse Ultimate frisbee team, working at WAER and covering the Orange for the Juice.