In defense of Syracuse QB Tommy Devito, his O-line has failed him

Syracuse Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito
Oct. 18, 2019; Syracuse NY, USA; Syracuse Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito (13) lines up under center during Syracuse's 27-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

After another horrendous outing for the Syracuse offense in a 21-10 loss at Pittsburgh, Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito received a significant share of blame. On its face, DeVito is an obvious target after completing 9 for 15 passes for just 32 yards with an interception.

But can the offensive troubles really be completely pinned on DeVito’s struggles?

Perhaps the past can tell us more, specifically, the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Those seasons seem like such a long time ago, even the latter one where SU went 10-3 and we all showed up at the Ensley Center after the Camping World Bowl to build a trophy of Dungey to put on top of the remodeled dome after its completion.

The 2017 team went 4-8, but upset Clemson and nearly did the same at LSU and Miami, eventually collapsing after Eric Dungey got hurt late in the season. In 2018, Syracuse averaged over 40 points a game and gave up “only” 37 sacks in 13 games, including three games where DeVito got significant playing time.

DeVito performed very well against Florida State and North Carolina a couple years ago, slinging the rock in those games from behind a line that was one of the better units in the ACC and was consistent throughout the year.

That line rolled out Cody Conway, Aaron Roberts, Aaron Servais, Evan Adams, and Koda Martin for 12 of 13 games with Sam Heckel filling in for Adams against Wagner. Moe Neal, Dontae Strickland, and Jarveon Howard, the three primary rushers for the Orange, all averaged at least 4.6 yards per carry and amassed almost 1,800 yards on the ground behind that line.

The 2017 line was also a consistent group, as Conway, Heckel, Servais, Adams, and Jamal McGloster started every outing, making up the line that helped gain three first downs and eat up the game’s final 6:10 in the victory over Clemson.

The three 2018 games where DeVito played extensively:

» Related: Syracuse drops 21-10 game to Pitt on the road

  • FSU – 11/16 for 144 yards, TD, 2 sacks (both in first drive of third quarter)
  • UNC – 11/19 for 181 yards, 3 TD, INT, 0 sacks
  • Notre Dame – 14/31 for 105 yards, 2 INT, 6 sacks

Looks like DeVito, like probably almost every quarterback in the history of the sport, plays better when he isn’t worried about getting beaten up.

For a comparison, here are the 2019 games in which SU gave up at least 4 sacks and DeVito’s stats in those games:

  • Maryland – 28/39 for 330 yards, 3 TD, INT, 4 sacks
  • Clemson – 15/27 for 172 yards, INT, 8 sacks (and 6 quarterback hits)
  • NC State – 29/39 for 300 yards, TD, 8 sacks
  • Pitt – 11/23 for 101 yards, 6 sacks (and 6 quarterback hits)
  • FSU – 20/33 for 151 yards, 6 sacks

Total for those games – 103/161 (64.0%) for 1054 yards (6.55 yds/att), 4 TD, 2 INT

Total for other 2019 games – 110/176 (62.5%) for 1306 yards (7.42 yds/att) 15 TD, 3 INT

When you look at those five rough games, DeVito put up solid stat lines against Maryland and NC State, but the others were horrific, averaging 5.11 yards per attempt in the other three.

This season has been an even rougher start. DeVito sports under a 50 percent completion rate, averages barely over 3 yards an attempt, and has been sacked 14 times in just two contests.

It’s hard to look at those numbers (and the two games this season) and not come away thinking the following things:

  • DeVito really benefits from a clean pocket. This does not make him unique.
    The offensive line of the last two years has not provided it. Dakota Davis getting healthy almost certainly isn’t a difference maker to any meaningful degree, as he would need to get blended in on the fly.
  • If he was completely healthy and went through spring and camp (hadn’t needed surgery/rehab after last season), that would help substantially. If Davis had been all systems go and Chris Bleich had been granted immediate eligibility in time for spring practice, that would make a difference.
  • DeVito needs at least one receiver he can trust and it is clear he does not have it, regardless of how many times he targeted Taj Harris in the opener. This makes the almost absolute ignoring of tight ends Aaron Hackett and Luke Benson to this point of the season (zero receptions) a glaring red flag.
  • Much like Clayton Welch last year, Rex Culpepper provided a spark because the opponent is not prepared for him. Welch’s spark didn’t last and neither will Culpepper’s (you could say it didn’t last after his first two passes against Pitt).

It’s the offensive line. Again.

And, as a result, Devito should play this season unless injured (then play Culpepper) or it is garbage time (and play Culpepper because he is the backup and has earned it). I know the desire to see what the freshmen have is there, but frankly, there is no reason to have them play behind this line and risk their development.

Head coach Dino Babers, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh need to decide on next year’s starting five before this season ends and maximize their opportunity in the offseason to build their chemistry and play for next season.

Remember, of the 11 games on the schedule, the six easiest ones (on paper, anyway) are the ones played at home. They are supposed to lose on the road every time out and Pitt is the worst of those teams.

Georgia Tech next week and Duke after a bye, both at home, are more on SU’s level. Tech beat FSU last week, but was routed late by UCF on Saturday, 49-21. Duke is 0-2 after a 26-6 loss at home to Boston College on Saturday.

Those two games will show us a little more about what DeVito can, and can’t, do.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 637 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.