The bye week is here for the Syracuse Orange and it arguably could not have come at a better time. Weeks one and two hit Dino Babers’ team like a Kevin McCallister-thrown brick, but a convincing 17-point victory over Georgia Tech last Saturday has given some cause for optimism. With no game coming up this weekend, let’s take this opportunity to press the pause button and evaluate where things stand for Syracuse through the first three weeks of the 2020 season.
New defensive coordinator Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense has been nothing short of revolutionary. There’s always supposed to be growing pains when installing a new defense. When you toss in the fact players were attempting to learn scheme and positioning over Zoom, expectations were understandably set pretty low. Well, no one told Syracuse’s secondary. Despite facing the two-man, gun-slinger gauntlet of North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett in the first two games, ‘Cuse’s defense currently ranks 6th or better in the following categories.
Trill Williams was named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week for his standout performance last week. Williams had an interception, converted a defensive lateral into a touch and tacked on five tackles and two pass break-ups.
We’ve all heard plenty about what’s new inside the renovated Carrier Dome, but what stole the show in Syracuse’s home-opener was the newest crop of Orange true freshman.
RB Sean Tucker
Syracuse’s run game took a huge blow in early September when their projected top two rushers, Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard, announced they were opting out of the 2020 season. Finding their replacement was slow-going, but an unlikely candidate finally emerged in the third game of the season.
Freshman Sean Tucker, the ACC’s reigning Running Back of the Week, broke out against Georgia Tech with 112 rushing-yards and two touchdowns. His 38-yard near-spill and scamper got the scoring started against the Yellow Jackets and provided a much needed spark for the struggling Syracuse offense.
DB Robert Hanna
“Next man up” is a philosophy freshman DB Robert Hanna was forced to put into practice recently. When Andre Cisco went down during pre-game warm-ups ahead of the Georgia Tech game, it was Hanna who had to step in for the defense’s most electrifying player. Not only did Hanna hold his own, he shined. His nine tackles lead the team and his interception had the few spectators in attendance squinting to make sure it wasn’t actually Cisco who was making plays all over the field.
DB Ja’Had Carter
The Syracuse defense hasn’t appeared stiff at any point during this three-game stretch, but having a 10-point lead over Georgia Tech during garbage time gave way to even looser play. The only thing that could’ve used some tightening, however, was the accuracy of Georgia Tech QB Jeff Sims. Sims attempted knocking on the door of the red zone with a late-game heave, but the only one home was Syracuse freshman DB Ja’Had Carter. Carter forged a Yellow Jacket signature before taking custody of the wayward package and ushering it 23-yards downfield. When it looked like the jig was up, Carter turned and lateraled his stolen prize to teammate Trill Williams. Williams anchored the getaway, sprinting the final 43-yards to the end zone. Despite its impulsive appearance, Williams said the pick n’ pitch had been put into motion weeks prior.
“That was just a crazy play because throughout the weeks, me and Ja'Had, we're roommates, so we talked about, 'hey, you get catch a pick and you feel you're about to get tackled, just pitch it back,’” Williams said following the 37-20 victory over Georgia Tech. “And we were joking, 'like how Deion used to do when he was on the Cowboys,' and it just happened to happen.”
When Tommy DeVito was 22-46 for 144-yards with 14 sacks and zero touchdowns, Orange fans were left wondering if there was another option behind center. Back-up Rex Culpepper enthusiastically threw his hat into the ring against Pitt by launching a 69-yard bomb to Taj Harris for Syracuse’s first touchdown of the season. How did he make it look so easy? Why could he hit the deep ball when DeVito couldn’t?
One week removed from the conundrum, DeVito put those questions to rest.
“It was good to see him hit some deep balls,” Babers said of his QB1 during his post-game press conference. “We've had some trouble with that. But man, he put two on the money.”
Both of DeVito’s passing scores came in chunks, 46-yards to WR Taj Harris and 43-yards to WR Nykeim Johnson.
THE COVID COMPONENT
To be three-games-deep at this point is an accomplishment in itself, especially considering some teams like the University of Houston have yet to play even one game. Whether or not you agree with the risks of putting players on the field during a pandemic, both Syracuse Athletics and Syracuse University as a whole deserve a ton of credit for how they’ve prioritized testing and player safety.
When health is you first concern, you have what happened moments before the scheduled kickoff against Georgia Tech. In an email sent to local media, Syracuse Athletics explained why COVID-19 protocol precautions resulted in the delayed start time.
“Today’s Syracuse University football game against Georgia Tech was briefly delayed to allow for additional COVID-19 testing. All of yesterday’s tests came back negative. Out of an abundance of caution, we retested three members of our football program before kickoff of today’s game. These tests came back negative as well. Our testing protocol worked as it should; this is exactly why we have implemented such a strict and robust testing program.”
With Syracuse getting over the hump against the Yellow Jackets, the only two teams without a win in the ACC are Wake Forest (0-2) and Duke (0-3). The Blue Devils will be the next visiting team to step onto the Carrier Dome’s artificial grass, but they may come to wish they never left the locker room. Duke has turned the ball over a disturbing 14 times in three games, a stat Trill Williams and company will be looking to further inflate.
For now, the game is scheduled to air locally on the YES Network. Kickoff is set for 12:30p E.T. on Oct. 10.