It is safe to say that the Syracuse football team has reached a low point in this 2020 COVID-stricken season. Saturday’s 38-21 loss to Liberty is perhaps SU’s most embarrassing game since its loss to Akron in the Greg Robinson era.
Liberty appeared to be the team from a Power 5 conference playing underdog Syracuse. Whether it was in the run game on offense or the pressure on the defensive side, Liberty flat out outplayed the Orange.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
1. The defense continued its struggles against the run game.
The major focus for the Syracuse defense was slowing down Liberty’s quarterback-running back combination of Malik Willis and Joshua Mack. The two had combined for more than 600 rushing yards heading into the contest.
Though SU had prepared for Mack, it was backups Shedro Louis and Peytton Pickett combining for 338 rushing yards. Louis demoralized the defensive line with a 75 yard TD run with 8:14 left in the first quarter. Willis followed with a four-yard touchdown to end the first quarter before Louis scampered in from 16 yards out with 7:49 in the half.
While the Orange is playing with a depleted defense—preseason All-American safety Andre Cisco is out for the season and will prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft—the energy has appeared flat over the past two games.
“We gotta plug up the middle and stop those doggone runs,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “There are certain things we are not doing well. We are not getting better.”
2. The loss of QB Tommy DeVito was apparent.
Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito was spotted on the sidelines in a knee rover after suffering what may be a season-ending injury against Duke last week.
The leadership and poise that DeVito brought to this Orange team may have been a bit undermined, and it showed against Liberty. This isn’t a Rex Culpepper slander, but it was obvious this is not the same team without Devito.
Culpepper, in just his second career start, completed 19 of 40 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns. The three touchdown passes represented a season high for an SU quarterback. But Culpepper couldn’t spark an offense that sputtered to just 308 total yards on the afternoon.
“It’s not Rex’s job to win the game, it’s his job to operate the offense,” Babers said. “The guys that have played a lot more, the guys who have started a lot more, need to play really good games to take the pressure off of him.”
3. The rest of the way is going to be… interesting.
It’s likely that Syracuse won’t be favored in any of their six remaining games, and the schedule certainly doesn’t get any easier.
On Saturday, Syracuse will head down to Death Valley to take on Clemson, which comes off a week where they annihilated Georgia Tech 73-7. The Tigers are now 5-0 and seem poised to return to the College Football Playoff.
What’s most concerning for Syracuse is how to handle Clemson’s run game. Liberty gashed the Orange defense for 338 yards on the ground, and Clemson’s Travis Etienne has over 390 rushing yards already this season.
From here on out, the Orange’s goal should be to improve through just simply having six games left. A lot of underclassmen who wouldn’t have normally played can take advantage of this time with significant injuries and opt-outs plaguing SU.
“Hey, we got a lot of young people playing, and it is gonna have to get better,” Babers said. “They can continue to learn and develop as a team, which could go a long way for the future. Not all is lost of this strange season, but it is up to the Orange on how they want to handle the rest of it.”