Syracuse has to regroup fast; No. 1 Clemson coming to town
Syracuse coach Dino Babers knows there’s nothing like a knockout to get your attention.
“When you wake up, the blues are blues, the reds are reds. Everything seems clearer than ever before,” Babers said Monday, less than 48 hours after his Orange were soundly beaten 63-20 at Maryland. “It’s like rebooting your entire computer. It’s really kind of eye-opening.
“We’re going to see how we do. Maybe we reboot. Maybe everything’s OK.”
The answer likely will come very soon. The Orange (1-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) host No. 1 Clemson (2-0, 1-0) in their home opener on Saturday night. It’s a key matchup in the Atlantic Division between the defending national champion Tigers and the only ACC team to beat them in the past two seasons.
At least the Orange might have their first sellout crowd in the Carrier Dome in nearly two decades — less than 175 tickets remained on Monday (capacity is 49,262), though all were season passes.
“I think we have a big task,” Babers said. “What we just went through, that was big. And now we have an opportunity against the best team in the country, so we’ll have to see how we do.”
Not much went right against the Terps (2-0), who scored six touchdowns in the first half, three in each quarter. The dominant performance — it was the most lopsided victory by an unranked team over a ranked team since Oklahoma beat No. 13 Texas A&M 51-13 on Oct. 23, 1999 — knocked the Orange from their perch at No. 21 out of the AP Top 25, replaced in the same spot by Maryland.
Syracuse defeated Liberty 24-0 on the road in its season opener the previous week. Babers was counting on a veteran defense and a superlative special teams unit to provide time for the Orange offense to develop behind redshirt sophomore Tommy DeVito, in his first year as the starting quarterback.
When Andre Szmyt clanged an extra-point attempt off the left upright midway through the second quarter, that was a bad omen. It was the first career miss for Szmyt, the nation’s top kicker last season, after 65 conversions in a row.
Babers attributed the defense’s poor showing in allowing 354 yards rushing and 650 yards overall — 7.8 per play — to miscommunication and bad tackling. Some examples : Maryland’s Javon Leake scored untouched on a 64-yard run and averaged 15.3 yards on seven carries; Jake Funk averaged nearly 19 yards on five carries and scored once; and Anthony McFarland scored on a 20-yard run, also never touched by a defender.
Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson said afterward that the goal was to try to make Syracuse quit, and he thought the Terps “did a good job at that.”
“I thought the entire defense played extremely hard,” Babers said. “Now, playing hard and not being in the right place still adds up to the same score. There was effort. They didn’t give up. But they were in the wrong place and the wrong calls, and there’s missed tackles. And when there’s not communication, when communication’s not received and you miss your tackles, it’s going to make it look really, really bad.”
DeVito went 28 for 39 for 330 yards and three touchdowns in his second career start, but he lost a fumble and threw an interception, and Maryland converted both turnovers into scores. On the season, DeVito is 45 of 74 for 506 yards with three TDs and three interceptions.
Unlike his predecessor, Eric Dungey, a powerful runner and one of the premier dual threat QBs in the country, DeVito’s game is to set up in the pocket. He has been sacked six times and is not much of a threat to run, taking a big element from the offense that has been there in the past, and he’s operating behind an offensive line that’s dealing with a key injury to center Sam Heckel.
“I think we’re going to be OK. I think he’s coming along great,” Babers said of DeVito. “He’s moving along at a pace that’s acceptable to me. I think things are going to get better and better and better for us. I think we’re right there where we’re supposed to be.
Dungey stayed relatively healthy last season and led the Orange to a breakout 10-win season, its best in nearly two decades. But he missed 10 games with injuries in his college career and Babers wants to avoid that with the 6-foot-2, 212-pound DeVito.
“I think the big thing with him is he needs to be smart,” Babers said. “The whole goal of your quarterback is not to get hurt. The key is whoever you start the season with, if you finish the season with him you have an opportunity for a fantastic season.”