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Syracuse head coach Dino Babers confirmed in a virtual press conference Monday that Tommy DeVito would remain the team’s starting quarterback, sidelining any notion that senior Rex Culpepper would supplant the redshirt junior.
The announcement comes after DeVito struggled to find open receivers during Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, totaling 32 yards and passing on 15 attempts. He briefly left the game in the second quarter due to an injury, returning and departing again in the second half.
Culpepper entered for DeVito in the loss, slinging a 69-yard touchdown to Taj Harris and finishing with 88 yards on four completions. Culpepper’s throw is the Orange’s only touchdown in its first two games. But Syracuse (0-2, 0-2 Atlantic Coast) will stick with its four-star starter entering Saturday’s matchup against Georgia Tech (1-1, 1-0 ACC).
“We’re going to play the best guy,” Babers said. “Right now, Tommy is still our starter. Rex has his packages. We’re going to see how they go.”
Babers refused to place the blame on one position group, instead dividing it among the receivers, offensive line and quarterback.
Red zone issues plagued the Orange again Saturday. Third down opportunities were halted because the offensive line couldn’t push the defensive line back, and the ball carrier, often DeVito or Culpepper, was shoved to the ground. Other times, DeVito missed open throws, didn’t adjust to a closing pocket or waited too long in the pocket and took a sack.
Yet, as Babers pointed out, if Syracuse keeps eight guys in to block — given its pass protection struggles — and only three rush, receivers will have no opportunities to create openings in coverage.
“It makes those windows really small and now you have the quarterback holding the ball once again,” Babers said. “There’s things you can do but you can’t just do one thing all the time or the opposition will do the counter move and it’ll hurt you.”
The loss to Pitt was the second consecutive game in which Syracuse’s offense failed to take flight, only totaling 102 yards without Harris’ touchdown. Babers’ predicted that the offense would struggle early in the season, but not to this extent.
New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert has yet to find any balance, unable to run or pass the ball efficiently in either game. Running backs Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard opted out before the season, leaving Gilbert with freshmen Jawhar Jordan and Sean Tucker.
“You can only change so much so fast,” Babers said. “Coach Gilbert’s work ethic is unmatched. We’re going to get this thing done.”
For at least this weekend, Gilbert will center the game plan around DeVito at quarterback and Culpepper in for select packages, like a third down run he had Saturday. Babers saw DeVito watching film in the practice facility on Sunday, healthy and ready to start in the Orange’s first game in the renovated Carrier Dome.
DeVito was the first quarterback Babers recruited to be his starter and heir to four-year starter Eric Dungey. Now, for the second consecutive year, the Syracuse offense has failed to score over 10 points in its first two conference games. It’s difficult for Babers to not be anxious.
“Frustration comes with the job,” he said. “I’m looking for the day when we get out of the smoke and everyone sees what we can do.”
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