Saturday was one of those days when the Syracuse football team should have just stayed in bed. Reports surfaced prior to kickoff between the Orange and a visiting Duke team that safety Andre Cisco and running back Jawhar Jordan would be out for some time, then quarterback Tommy DeVito was knocked out in the fourth quarter with what was reported after the game to be a season-ending injury.
Those injuries were followed by insult, as the previously winless Blue Devils ran all over the place, dropping a 38-24 loss on SU that was not as close as that score suggests. Syracuse (1-3, 1-3 ACC) forced four turnovers and nearly got a fifth and sixth, but Duke (1-4, 1-4 ACC) fell on their own fumble and Trill Williams dropped a room service interception.
When the Orange were not forcing turnovers, their defense that had been solid through the first three games was gashed repeatedly by a Blue Devil offense that rolled up 645 yards on 102 offensive plays.
SU’s offense was like a pop gun in comparison, totaling 286 yards on 52 plays. Two Duke running backs, Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant each ran for over 160 yards, outgaining the entire Syracuse offense by 46 yards.
The Blue Devils’ offense made their presence known after the opening kickoff, marching down the field in seven plays for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. The Orange struck back even faster, as Tommy DeVito zipped a perfect pass deep down the right sideline to Taj Harris, who sprinted the rest of the way for a 79-yard touchdown. Andre Szmyt added the extra point to make it a 7-7 game with under four minutes off the clock.
Duke would go in front two possessions later, getting a 36-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
On the second play of the second quarter, SU would take the lead when Cam Jonas came into the backfield unblocked and drilled Chase Brice for a sack, knocking the ball free. Geoff Cantin-Arku scooped up the ball and hustled 28 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. Szmyt’s extra point pushed the Syracuse lead out to 14-10.
Cody Roscoe ended the next Blue Devil drive by recovering a fumble on a botched handoff at the SU 46. The Orange drove to the Duke 13, but a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-one went nowhere, giving possession to Duke.
The guests took advantage, moving 87 yards for a touchdown and taking a 17-14 lead with just over five minutes left in the opening half. Duke forced a three-and-out and put together another impressive drive, this one covering 81 yards, as they tacked on another touchdown and extended their lead to 24-14 with one minute left in the second quarter.
SU received the ball to start the third quarter, but hung another three-and-out. The Blue Devils made it three straight scoring possessions, as their 45-yard field goal extended the margin out to 27-14.
Syracuse struck back quickly, as DeVito tossed a short pass to Luke Benson on the third play of the drive. Benson accelerated quickly and outran everyone to the end zone for a 53-yard score. Szmyt’s extra point clipped the gap down to 27-21 with 9:23 left in the third.
Two possessions later, Duke made it a two-possession game once more, settling for a 21-yard field goal after an impressive goal line stand by the Orange defense. The kick made it a 30-21 game with under a minute left in the third.
DeVito marched the SU offense into scoring range once more, but was knocked out of the game with an injury on a sack. Rex Culpepper came in for one snap before Szmyt booted a 48-yard field goal to pull Syracuse within 30-24 with just over ten minutes to play.
The Blue Devils responded with one more long drive, chewing up 75 yards for another touchdown. This time, the guests tacked on a two-point conversion to grab a 38-24 lead with 5:26 remaining.
The Orange meekly went out without a first down and Duke was able to run out the final minutes.
Tommy DeVito had his most productive game of the season, connecting on 13-of-26 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game. While DeVito would have had a more impressive stat line, but was betrayed by several drops by his receivers, he finally started making a consistent connection with Taj Harris, who finished with six receptions for 138 yards. Sean Tucker gained 53 yards on a dozen carries.
Mikel Jones had an interception to go with his career-high 13 tackles. Geoff Cantin-Arku forced one fumble and returned another for a score while Cam Jonas and Kingsley Jonathan each had a sack and a forced fumble. Rob Hanna and Cody Roscoe also had fumble recoveries for SU.
The Orange will cap this homestand on Saturday when they welcome Liberty to Syracuse. The Flames (4-0) have won three straight games at home, including routing a winless Louisiana-Monroe team on Saturday, 40-7. Liberty is led by running back Joshua Mack, who has gained 337 yards on the ground.
SU and the Flames will kick off next Saturday at noon Eastern with the game to be televised on regional sports networks.