Offense does enough, while defense bends but won’t break in win.
The Syracuse Orange football team collected just one win throughout the 2020 season, but already equaled that mark after a 29-9 victory on the road over the Ohio Bobcats on Saturday night.
Syracuse took a 7-0 lead on its first drive, courtesy of a six-yard touchdown run from Tommy DeVito, and followed that up with a safety less than a minute later. From there, the results were hot and cold on offense, but the Orange defense continued to bend while avoiding breaking against an Ohio team that just couldn’t punch it into the end zone.
SU took a 12-6 advantage into halftime, then tacked on another 10 points in the third quarter to put themselves up 22-6. Ohio added a field goal early in the fourth quarter, but the Orange were able to create some more distance as final period wore on.
The story, of course, was the defense. Despite missing McKinley Williams in this one, SU’s defense still made big stops (four tackles for loss), while generating some pressure and preventing Ohio from putting together much in the way of a downfield passing game. Most importantly, though, they slowed the Bobcats once inside the 20. Ohio hit three field goals on three red zone trips. They also missed a long field goal in the first quarter.
While top defensive contributions from the likes of Mikel Jones, Garrett Williams and Stefon Thompson were expected, the revelation was the play of Duce Chestnut. The true freshman found himself involved throughout the evening, making a multitude of open field tackles en route to eight total stops (second on the team), plus a half-tackle for loss, a pass break-up and (of course) an impressive one-handed interception with a couple minutes to go. Needless to say, it was an exciting debut for SU’s most-heralded 2021 prospect.
On the offensive side, things looked better than last year — in part because they couldn’t have looked worse. But a reworked O-line taking direction from new coach Mike Schmidt certainly seemed improved. Despite Chris Elmore not suiting up for this one, the Orange still wound up with 280 yards (!!!) on the ground.
Sean Tucker, in particular, enjoyed the benefits of a better group in front of him and better play-calling. He collected 181 rushing yards on 25 carries, plus a touchdown (just give the man 44, please). DeVito also had 49 yards on the ground along with the aforementioned first TD of the season. Cooper Lutz tacked on 25 yards on five carries, with a late score to put the game away at 29-9 with about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
If there were things to note in the passing game, it was the lack of Garrett Shrader appearances until garbage time, to the chagrin of some Orange fans, plus the fact that DeVito had fewer than 100 yards through the air. That said, Tommy was also sacked just once and he was 11-of-17 passing, while extending his streak of passes without an interception to 187 (four short of a new school record). Taj Harris was the team’s leading receiver, with six grabs for 39 yards.
We’d also be remiss to avoid Andre Szmyt’s role here. While it was unfortunate that Syracuse stalled out in the red zone a couple times, Szmyt was as trusty as ever hammering home field goals to help soften the blow. He’s knocking on the door of Cole Murphy’s SU record of 59 field goals, sitting just one away now.
So while no one would claim it was a perfect game for ‘Cuse, the Orange did go on the road and handily beat an opponent they weren’t favored to (rightly or wrongly). The defense is clearly continuing to make strides and looked excellent with a short field behind them in this game. Offensively, the O-line looks worlds better already, and we’re probably fine to just run it down everyone’s throat all year without asking DeVito (or any QB) to do too much.
Nice win in week one, and we’ll hopefully improve upon things in week two. More coverage ahead this evening recapping an enjoyable victory that at least let us breath easier for a few days.