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‘You can never be too fast’: How Syracuse upped the tempo on offense

The Orange worked hard last week to speed up the pace of play.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

With a new quarterback in Tommy DeVito at the helm of the Syracuse Orange offense, there were questions heading into the 2019 season. Early on, it didn’t seem like much was done to alleviate those concerns. Syracuse posted underwhelming 24 points in the season against a second-year FBS program in Liberty. That, in turn, was followed by weeks against Maryland and Clemson where the Orange lost by a combined 78 points largely due to a lacking offensive presence.

A big part of that was a lack of first downs. Against Clemson, for example, Syracuse only moved the chains 10 times in the entire ballgame.

After a certain amount of struggling to live up to the “Orange Is The New Fast” motto, players decided enough was enough.

“Coach Babers didn’t like the pace during practice and we didn’t either,” wide receiver Trishton Jackson said.

“Everybody had a sense of urgency during practice,” senior running back Moe Neal said of the week leading up to Western Michigan. “We knew we wanted to get faster.”

So, spearheaded by the redshirt sophomore gunslinger, the Orange went to work on picking up the pace. Sometimes things went so fast that players were caught off guard.

“Tommy wasn’t waiting for anybody to get set,” tight end Aaron Hackett said. “As soon as he thought things were ready, he was rolling.”

DeVito felt that mimicking the up-tempo setting in practice was crucial if things were ever going to get better on game days.

“You can only move as fast as your slowest offensive lineman,” DeVito said. “So it was important that I get everyone set so I can set the table and snap the ball.”

And come Western Michigan, the offense took a season-high 82 snaps in what turned out to be a career day for the QB, and a big step forward for the Syracuse offense. DeVito ran for a career-high 85 yards, threw for 287 more, and tallied five total touchdowns en route to SU’s 52-33 win. On top of that, Jackson racked up 141 receiving yards and reeled in a pair of TDs to earn ACC Receiver of the Week honors. Hackett also broke out with two touchdown catches of his own. In total, SU had 525 yards of total offense and earned a season-high 25 first downs.

After that WMU win, Syracuse has one more non-conference game against Holy Cross on Saturday before a bye week and then the start of ACC play. With tougher opponents not far off, the consensus is and always has been that the improvement can’t just stop here.

“We’re never fast enough,” Hackett added.

In review of the game against the Broncos, coaches told the team that there were 18 seconds between plays and that was the fastest SU had moved in any game so far in 2019.

“(Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Performance Sean Edinger) does a great job running us in the summer,” Hackett said. “So I know my guys are ready to go fast and so am I.”