Syracuse football rediscovers its offense, and the win column

Taj Harris
Sep 26, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange wide receiver Taj Harris (3) celebrates his touchdown catch and run with teammates against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the second quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In the reopening of what may or may not still be the Carrier Dome, Syracuse won a strange game over Georgia Tech, 37-20. After losing ballhawk Andre Cisco for the game during warmups after he collided with a teammate and a 30-minute delay due to confirming the results of some COVID tests, the Orange (1-2, 1-2 ACC) got four interceptions and turned them into 17 points to beat the Yellow Jackets (1-2, 1-1 ACC).

The Tech miscues helped SU get a hot start and allowed SU to stay afloat when their offense faltered.

Two of those interceptions came in the first quarter, when Syracuse built a 17-0 lead. After each team punted on their opening possession, the Orange ground up 69 yards in six plays, breaking into the end zone on a sensational 38-yard touchdown run by Sean Tucker.

When spun down, Tucker narrowly avoided having his knee hit the ground and popped up to complete the run to the end zone. Andre Szmyt booted the extra point and SU held a 7-0 lead just over six minutes into the action.

Kingsley Jonathan swatted the arm of Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims on the Jackets’ second play from scrimmage on the following drive, causing the ball to float into the air. When the pigskin came down, it landed in the grasp of Josh Black at the Tech 29 for the first Syracuse interception. The Orange offense could not move, but Szmyt knocked a 47-yard field goal through the uprights to push the lead to 10-0.

The SU defense blunted the next Yellow Jacket drive with another pick and Trill Williams returned this one 47 yards to the Tech 37. Seven plays later, Tucker slashed off the right side of a heavy line package that included defensive linemen Black and McKinley Williams into the end zone for a four-yard score. Szmyt punched the extra point through and Syracuse led, 17-0, with 1:22 left in the first.

The Jackets were the first to score in the second period, getting a touchdown pass over five minutes into the session. Their two-point try from a kick formation was unsuccessful, leaving them in a 17-6 hole.

The Orange struck back quickly. Nykeim Johnson returned the kickoff 49 yards into GT territory and Tommy DeVito hit Taj Harris down the right side two plays later for a 46-yard touchdown pass. Szmyt’s extra point was blocked, but SU’s lead was 23-6.

Tech responded with a touchdown drive to get within ten, but that score held to intermission with Syracuse in front, 23-13.

Rob Hanna thwarted the first Georgia Tech drive of the second half with an interception, then the teams traded missed field goals. Szmyt had first attempt, but his low liner from 53 yards fell well short. The Yellow Jackets responded by driving inside the SU 10, but their offense bogged down and Tyrell Richards blocked their 26-yard attempt, keeping the Orange on top by ten.

Tech’s next drive was successful, earning them a trip to the end zone and clipping the Syracuse lead to 23-20 with 1:29 left in the third. The Orange offense got the score right back. DeVito hooked up with Johnson on a deep ball down the right side, mirroring his earlier connection with Harris by dropping a perfect pass into his receiver’s arms, only this was from 43 yards out. Szmyt’s conversion was true and SU led, 30-20, with 40 seconds left in the quarter.

» Related: A new era begins for Syracuse football with the renovated Carrier Dome

Neither team mustered any consistent offense after that. The lone score came after Ja’Had Carter notched SU’s fourth interception of the afternoon. Carter returned the ball 23 yards to the GT 43, but then lateraled to Trill Williams, who raced the rest of the way for a touchdown with just over eight minutes to play. Szmyt’s extra point closed the scoring at 37-20.

Cody Roscoe blunted any Yellow Jacket comeback hopes on the next possession notching a strip-sack. Steve Linton fell on the ball at the Georgia Tech 9. Syracuse’s Markenzy Pierre had a touchdown run called back by review on third down and the Orange turned it over on downs on the following play. Neither team threatened to score the rest of the way.

Tommy DeVito hit a couple long touchdown passes for nearly half of his production, finishing 13-of-24 for 194 yards with a pair of scores and an interception. Nykeim Johnson topped the SU receiving group with four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. Sean Tucker had a strong first half, turning 15 carries into 100 yards and a pair of scores, and finished with 24 rushing attempts for 112 yards.

Rob Hanna led the defense with nine tackles, including a tackle for loss, and an interception. Josh Black, Ja’Had Carter, and Trill Williams each had an interception, as well. Cody Roscoe had a pair of tackles for loss, including a sack, and a fumble, which was recovered by Steve Linton.

Syracuse has an idle week before hosting Duke. The Blue Devils (0-3, 0-3) have had a rough start to their season, losing all three of their contests by at least two touchdowns, including Saturday’s 38-20 loss at Virginia. Duke will host #20 Virginia Tech next Saturday while the Orange are on bye.

Quarterback Chase Brice has struggled for the Blue Devils this season, throwing six interceptions, including four on Saturday, against two touchdowns. Defensive end Victor Dimukeje is a player for SU to key on, as he has four sacks, notching 3.5 of them against Boston College.

Kickoff time and television network for the Syracuse-Duke game are yet to be determined.

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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.