After a highly disappointing 5-7 season, there are probably a lot of you that would rather not look back at 2019 for the Syracuse Orange football team. But before we move forward into what we hope is a much better 2020, it’s worth taking stock of what’s occurred.
For the next two weeks, we’ll be going position by position recapping SU’s year to see what worked, what didn’t, and how that impacted the Orange’s success (or in many cases, a lack thereof). We start with...
Coming into 2019, one thing we figured was a “lock’ was the passing game would be more efficient with Tommy DeVito than it was with Eric Dungey, who certainly ad-libbed a bit more while running Dino Babers’s offense. And to some extent, it was, as DeVito completed a higher percentage of his passes (63.2% vs. 60.9% for Dungey last year), while throwing for more TDs — 19 vs. 18 — and fewer picks (5 vs. 9).
Yet, it never felt or looked as dynamic, due to a variety of factors. For one, the yardage was far more dependent on chunk yardage, and DeVito still only averaged seven yards per attempt (vs. 7.7 last year). He struggled to step up into the pocket, and created his own pressure at times. As is the case for many first-time starters, he was also a bit of a single-read QB; something that could also be chalked up to the PTSD created by offensive line woes in front of him.
DeVito was sacked more than just about any quarterback in the country, which banged him up quite a bit from a mental and physical standpoint, while also killing off timing, play-calling and an ability to go through progressions. So while Tommy certainly had his issues (which perhaps can be corrected by a better QB coach), it’s tough to pin this all on him alone.
One surprising aspect of DeVito’s game — before he got more dinged up — was his running ability, and that’s something to potentially keep an eye on as his career at SU continues. We’re certainly not hoping Tommy runs as often as his predecessor did (and certainly don’t want him tackled as often in the open field). But when he did take off, DeVito showed off some speed and an ability to pick up yards in a hurry. Though his 122 net yards on the ground doesn’t sound like a lot, it also takes sacks into account. His running performances against WMU (85 yards) and Boston College (61) alone show he’s capable of making plays with his legs when called upon.
Interestingly, that running ability was part of what was supposed to be the plan for backup Clayton Welch. And yet, the redshirt senior didn’t do a ton there, aside from the Pitt game. More encouraging, at times, were his passing abilities.
While Welch lacked the arm or accuracy DeVito provides (he completed just 53% of his 68 attempts), he showed himself able to better step up into the pocket, elude pressure at times, and oddly wound up the beneficiary of some of the best runs after the catch we saw all season (shoutout to Jawhar Jordan, Taj Harris and Moe Neal, among others). He wasn’t a better playmaker than Tommy. Welch was just more able to extend plays. Sometimes that had great results (see the big plays). Others, it was simply incompletions or worse, the sort of bad interceptions we saw vs. Wake Forest.
During the season, there was a constant buzz of comparison between Dungey and DeVito. And we’re not exempt from that either. Just read above.
While the former exhibited some expert improvisational skills and the sort of play-making ability that helped Syracuse play above its station in certain games, it also involved a ton of risk-taking that could (and did, at times) take them right out of them. Dungey followed a very basic version of a script, but often times called his own number. The fact that the results were more positive than negative was a testament to how good of an athlete he was, rather than the approach itself.
DeVito, instead, is a more methodical QB who can improvise here and there, but is a much better pocket passer than Dungey... when he actual gets a pocket to throw from. This year, that time and space largely eluded him. But when he had it, the redshirt sophomore delivered some excellent downfield throws.
Tommy did a decent job in 2019, and where he falls short most is relative to expectations more than what was reasonable given the circumstances dealt this team. Those excuses won’t be there in 2020, though. The hope is that next year, we may find he’s better off as a passer in the future for the on-the-job experience he went through this fall.