Coming off of back-to-back losses against Maryland and Clemson, the Syracuse Orange were in a “win now” situation. Were they better than the 63-20 and 41-6 thrashings or were those anomalies for a team still finding themselves? They were set to find out as they played host to the Western Michigan Broncos, against whom they were victorious against in the 2018 season.
Former Syracuse offensive coordinator Tim Lester’s team was anything but a pushover as the line coming into this game favored SU by 4.5 points and ESPN’s FPI (Football Power Index) gave WMU a 55% chance of winning. The Orange shattered the spread with a 52-33 victory by having a coming out party for the offense as it looked much more like what we’re accustomed to seeing during Dino Babers’ tenure.
Below, we highlight some of the biggest plays of the game in GIF form:
1. (14:35 - 1st) 2nd & 10 at Syracuse’s 30-yard line: Western Michigan came into this contest rated near the bottom of FBS in rushing defense and as evidenced by Syracuse’s play calling, the Orange sought to see how true it was. After failing to gain any ground on his first attempt of the afternoon, Tommy Devito faked a sweep to Moe Neal upon which the Bronco defense bit on allowing the quarterback to run for 60 yards. Neal would find the end zone two plays later to give the Orange an early lead.
2. (11:25 - 1st) 4th & 1 at Syracuse’s 14-yard line: Jon Wassink and the Bronco offense faced little resistance during the first possession as they easily marched down field by taking advantage of a depleted Orange secondary. A 43 yard completion to D’Wayne Eskridge had Western Michigan at the SU 23. Facing a fourth down in the red zone, Tim Lester opted to roll the dice instead of taking the points with a field goal and came up empty handed as Evan Foster stopped LeVante Bellamy for a one yard loss.
3. (6:26 - 1st) 4th & 10 at Syracuse’s 30-yard line: At the conclusion of the 2018 campaign, SU had one of the best, if not the best, special teams units in the nation. Sterling Hofrichter’s ability to pin the opponent deep in their own end of the field was a major contributor to that honor. Off of a Hofrichter punt, five Orange players swarmed Keith Mixon Jr. who muffed the ball. Abdul Adams would add a fumble recovery to his ledger for the day.
4. (13:21 - 1st) 3rd & 5 at Syracuse’s 30-yard line: The Orange wasted little time taking advantage of the opportunity in front of them. Unlike that against Clemson, when the offense was given field position in the red zone, they delivered. Deceiving the Western Michigan defense with a fake sweep, Aaron Hackett was the recipient of Devito’s first passing touchdown of the game.
5. (3:04 - 2nd) 1st & 10 at Syracuse’s 12-yard line: Chalk up an additional unforced error for Western Michigan. Antwan Cordy’s trip of Bellamy was enough to jar the ball loose while trying to extend over the pylon. Christopher Frederick recovered in the end zone to set up the Orange at their own 20.
6. (12:53 - 2nd) 2nd & 6 at Syracuse’s 30-yard line: Eric Dungey, is that you? Tommy Devito turned on the jets after seeing Abdul Adams cut down an oncoming defender to scamper into the end zone untouched. Devito’s running ability suddenly adds a new dimension to the SU offense.
7. (11:14 - 2nd) 3rd & 10 at Western Michigan’s 32-yard line: Overall, the SU offensive line took a leap forward when compared to their performance against Clemson in Week 3. The sack of Tommy Devito by Antonio Balabani on 3rd and 10 was one of their low-lights on the day as the Orange were no longer in field goal position. What may have been a possession in which their lead could have grown by three or seven was now punted away.
8. (9:17 - 2nd) 1st & 10 at Syracuse’s 47-yard line: LeVante Bellamy has been clocked at running a 4.28 in the 40 yard dash and we saw why Dino emphasized this in the week coming into the contest. The Broncos offensive line cleared a lane for the halfback who found a seam and put six on the scoreboard.
9. (8:42 - 2nd) 2nd & 5 at Syracuse’s 36-yard line: In what could have been a case of Moe Neal looking up the field before he had the ball, a routine toss turned into a turnover. Anton Curtis’ recovery gave Western Michigan prime real estate to work with.
10. (4:58 - 2nd) 4th & Goal at Syracuse’s 2-yard line: Off of Neal’s fumble, the Broncos sought to make Syracuse pay for their mistakes the way the Orange had done to them. Facing a fourth and goal, Wassink found Giovanni Ricci uncovered for the touchdown.
11. (11:25 - 3rd) 3rd & 7 at Syracuse’s 41-yard line: Give Devito time and the chance to step up in the pocket and he’ll put on display the cannon of an arm he possesses. Trishton Jackson was on the end of a perfectly delivered ball to put the Orange up 31-13.
12. (9:27 - 3rd) 2nd & 8 at Syracuse’s 43-yard line: Poor tackling and angles taken to tackle have been one of the glaring issues for the Orange defense so far during the 2019 season. In this instance, Bellamy runs through an attempt by Cordy to the SU endzone for his second touchdown of the game.
13. (13:21 - 1st) 3rd & 5 at Western Michigan’s 46-yard line: When the offensive line hasn’t performed as expected, one way to make their jobs easier is via quick passes. Calling a WR screen, Devito found Jackson who used the open field to show off what he could in space by breaking several tackles for the touchdown.
14. (6:07 - 3rd) 3rd & 5 at Western Michigan’s 40-yard line: Right place at the right time for Joe Wassink. The Bronco QB threw the ball behind Keith Mixon only for it to find Jaylen Hall who took it to the house to make it a two possession game.
15. (10:25 - 4th) 4th & 1 at Western Michigan’s 41-yard line: With all of the momentum behind them, Tim Lester once again hoped it would pay off for his team by going for it on fourth down in their own territory. In what could be one of the bigger plays of the season for Syracuse, the defense held down the fort by stuffing a Davon Tucker run. Brian Ward’s unit had been tested throughout the afternoon, but when it mattered they did not break.
16. (9:37 - 4th) 1st & 10 at Western Michigan’s 28-yard line: Moe Neal looked dead to rights in the backfield before he showed off the footwork. The only thing missing from those cuts on a dime were Chris Berman’s sound effects. Devito would hook up with Hackett for his fourth passing touchdown of the day to give the Orange some much needed breathing room.
17. (3:43 - 4th) 4th & 4 at Western Michigan’s 27-yard line: Time wasn’t on Western Michigan’s side here nor was the field position. In a last ditch attempt to make something out of nothing, Wassink’s pass to Ricci was off to force a turnover on downs and ice the game for the Orange.
When their backs were against the wall, Dino Babers’s team responded in an emphatic manner and won when they needed it most. They didn’t play a perfect game, but they did more than enough to secure their second victory of the season. The Orange look to tie up any loose ends and continue to their development when take on the Holy Cross Crusaders next Saturday in a noon matinee. They’ll look to go over the .500 mark heading into the bye week and conference play — not bad considering the perceived rougher start to the year.