Season Preview: Syracuse
Game Date: Saturday, September 12 at Kenan Memorial Stadium
2019 Record: 5-7, 2-6 ACC (6th in the Atlantic)
Head Coach: Dino Babers
Last Face-off: Syracuse won 40-37 in 2018. The Orange lead all-time series 3-2.
The Tar Heels' 2020 season opener is finally set and it’s an interesting one.
Syracuse and North Carolina have not had a lot of experience against each other, but they have had similar run of form until recently. The Orange had a disappointing season last year but have been building momentum under Coach Dino Babers. In 2018, Syracuse went 10-3 and earned the program’s first 10-win season 2001. With that, there were some significant expectations moving forward. However, that was quickly snuffed out.
Not much went right for the Orange last year. A few injuries and poor performances early in the season sent the team spinning. From there, they were slipping for most of the year. They did begin to right the ship towards the end, picking up big wins over Duke and Wake Forest.
The downgrade from 10 wins to 5 forced Babers’ hand when it came offseason changes, though. Syracuse have new coaches at both offensive and defensive coordinator. This can often lead to a spark in creativity for a team, but it will be a significantly more difficult in the current climate. Spring practice being cancelled might have hurt the Orange more than anybody, for the new coaches have had little time to adjust and implement their schemes.
This is likely to be most noticeable on the defensive side of the ball. Syracuse ranked 89 in the country in scoring defense last season. While a new coach might help, the Orange are also losing seven starters on that side of the ball. The front seven is taking the biggest hit, and that might be a focus for Phil Longo.
With a dynamic duo of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams in the backfield, the Tar Heels could have a field day on the ground. If so, that will set up sophomore Sam Howell for shots down the field and more open areas to throw the ball. The Orange most likely will have to focus on the run or air game, and when they do UNC has a chance of exploiting that.
The offense is should be stronger than the defense for Syracuse, but that is dependent on a few individuals. Redshirt Junior Tommy DeVito is entering his second year as the starting quarterback and will have a chance to show what he’s made of. DeVito had a respectable 2019 campaign, passing for 2,360 yards. He had 19 touchdowns to just five interceptions. He also completed an impressive 63% of his passes.
What made the year so difficult for DeVito was his time in the pocket. He was the most sacked QB in America, being brought down 44 times last year. Early on he lost a couple players on what was already an inexperienced offensive line. That should be improved this year, with three starters returning and added depth.
Syracuse is losing a lot of production on offense. Moe Neal was their leading rusher last year, but he graduated. Triston Jackson was their biggest threat at receiver, and he surprised many by declaring early for the NFL draft. They will need players to step up into order to flip their fortunes.
This will probably be a transitional year for Dino Babers and the Orange. With new coaches and a relatively new roster, expectations will not be as high as they were last year. The talent is there, but it is yet to be seen if some of those players will step into leadership roles.
Andre Cisco is the definition of a ballhawk and the biggest threat on the Syracuse defense. Entering his junior year, Cisco is the active leader in interceptions in the NCAA with 12. He was an All-American as a true freshman, bringing in seven interceptions. Last year he pulled in five despite misses three games. Cisco is one of the best safeties in the country and the best player Syracuse has.
Tommy DeVito will be more established this year and as an upperclassman will need to step into that role as a leader. He is the only truly proven player on the offense.
Abdul Adams is expected to start at running back and will have to fill the shoes of Moe Neal. Adams only rushed for 336 yards and three touchdowns in his first year with the Orange. He is experienced, as he is a senior. He played his first two seasons at Oklahoma before transferring to Syracuse.
Taj Harris will need to step up as the number one receiver this year. He has been productive as a deep threat in his first two years, receiving for 565 and 559 yards as a freshman and sophomore, respectively. He averaged 15.1 yards per catch in 2019.
Moe Neal was leading rusher for the Orange in 2019.
Triston Jackson was their leading receiver and was expected to be the best skill player on the roster this season. Jackson declared for the NFL draft, which came as a surprise to many. He went undrafted before signing with the Rams.
Sean Riley was the slot receiver option for DeVito and was third on the team in receiving.