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ATHENS, Ohio — The marquee, fast-paced offense that Dino Babers promised to bring to the Orange when he arrived six years ago made it’s return during the opening offensive drive of Syracuse’s 2021 season.
Running in a no-huddle system, freshman running back Sean Tucker exploded for a 47-yard gain when he weaseled by Ohio defenders and found an alleyway along the right sideline. Taj Harris snagged a screenpass and gained eight yards, then Tucker picked up the first down to set up first and goal. Quarterback Tommy DeVito capped it off by pulling down a read-option handoff and sprinting into the endzone for a six-yard touchdown run.
After a 1-10 season in 2020, the program’s worst since 2005, Syracuse football opened the season with a win over Mid-American Conference’s Ohio, 29-9. SU hasn’t lost to a MAC team since 2008, and that didn’t change on Saturday night in Athens.
Babers said on Tuesday before the game that Ohio would play this like a “bowl game.” Quarterback Tommy DeVito emphasized that the season-opener is always the most important, and that despite the fact that Ohio (0-1) is a MAC team, they’re deceptively good. But Saturday, it was the occasional bursts of fast-paced offense — largely from Tucker — good tackling on defense, and Ohio’s offense stalling in the red zone that led to Syracuse’s (1-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) season-opening win. Tucker finished with a career-high 181 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown.
After Ohio turned the ball over on downs with 2:21 remaining in the third quarter, Tucker exploded through a gap for a 28-yard gain on the first play of the series. Syracuse turned to its hurry-up offense once again, and this time DeVito kept it for a 15-yard rush. He fired a dart to Anthony Queeley for 21 more, and after Jarveon Howard ran into a pile near the goal line, Tucker finished the drive off with a cut left and a six-yard touchdown.
The series lasted 40 seconds, and SU stretched its lead to 16 points.
With 5:00 remaining in the fourth quarter, Tucker continued grinding with back-to-back 14 and 17 yard carries before backup Cooper Lutz ran it in for the touchdown to secure the win.
Ahead of the game, defensive lineman Josh Black said that Ohio was a physical team who ran the ball with a lot of success. Head coach Dino Babers compared the Bobcats to “old Nebraska” without the option.
“They run the ball downhill, they’re washing everything down with them, so the more separation and space they can get, the more yards they have,” Black said.
But Saturday, it was Tucker who did that instead. He finished with almost three times as many rushing yards as his counterpart, De’Montre Tuggle.
Syracuse wasn’t as explosive for much of the second and third quarters, though, but proved the offense could come to life when necessary. They finished with 10 plays of more than 15 yards.
DeVito threw the ball away when needed, and the Orange offense didn’t turn the ball over on Saturday night. The redshirt junior quarterback narrowly missed Harris in the left corner of the endzone in the first half, and he threw a near-perfect deep ball that was millimeters away from Harris’ outstretched arms during the third quarter.
He paced the offense, finishing with 49 yards on the ground in addition to 11-of-17 passing for 92 yards.
On its opening possession, Ohio chipped away with short gains on handoffs to Tuggle. But Syracuse’s defense forced a third-and-long situation which Ohio could only complete a short pass on, and then the Bobcats kicker came up short on a 50-yard field goal attempt.
The Orange got another big redzone stop when Tuggle picked up five yards on 3rd-and-10 before he was forced out of bounds. A Philly special-esque play setup a 47-yard gain for Bobcats quarterback Kurtis Rourke, who turned into a wide receiver on the big play. But Syracuse forced a short field goal at the start of the second quarter and then another at the end of the half.
During that sequence, with under 30 seconds, cornerback Garrett Williams put himself in the perfect position to force a turnover. He leapt toward the jump-ball, which hit him in the hands, but dropped the interception and the Bobcats settled for three points.
Duce Chestnut nearly jumped a route on a flat to the left side and ran it back for a touchdown in the third quarter, but the ball snuck by him and into the wide receiver’s arms as well. Ohio went three-and-out, and punt returner Trevor Pena slipped by multiple defenders on a strong return to start the drive at the Bobcats 26-yard line.
But this time the Orange stalled in the red zone. DeVito couldn’t find Anthony Queeley, his first read, on third down, and ended up throwing it away as pressure eventually arrived.
Down 15-6 at the end of the third quarter, the Bobcats brought in second-string quarterback Armani Rogers. The run-heavy quarterback tucked it as if he was going to take off downfield, but then pulled back in the pocket and threw a 32-yard bomb that beat SU cornerback Jason Simmons. Then Ohio turned to backup running back O’Shaan Allison, whose change of pace created back to back eight and nine yard gains.
But on fourth down, Chestnut blew up Jerome Buckner, popping the ball loose after the receiver seemed to have hauled in the catch.
Even in the final minute of the game, when Syracuse already led by 20 and the Ohio student section had begun to empty, Abdul Adams got his third carry of the game. He burst up, cutting into a gap, and gaining 15 yards for another big offensive play.
The post Syracuse wins season-opener behind explosive offense, Tucker’s 181 yards appeared first on The Daily Orange.