Through much of the 24-0 victory for the Syracuse Orange in their season opener, redshirt sophomore Tommy DeVito wasn’t spectacular. On the day, he finished 17-of-35 for a total of 176 yards and two interceptions. However, it wasn’t the worst performance of the Dino Babers area by any stretch and even in recent history. Both Eric Dungey against Pittsburgh (18-of-38, 195 yards) and DeVito against Notre Dame (14-of-31, 105 yards) last year were as bad or worse performances.
Some perspective on DeVito’s performance probably comes from the opponent that Syracuse was playing. It was expected that the Orange would be up against an overmatched opponent and dominate from the first whistle. While the Liberty Flames aren’t world-beaters, they came out and played a competent game in the secondary and were helped out by some mistakes along the way.
It was apparent throughout the early portion of the game that there were some jitters and the Orange offense needed to settle down. Be it the first game of the season, the road game, or some combination, the circumstances were rattling both DeVito and early on, the offensive line that was protecting him. The offensive line’s inability early to establish the run game may have also kept the passing attack from getting into a rhythm through the early going.
As the game progressed, there was definitely some improvement, and in the postgame presser, DeVito himself noted that the offense during the second half definitely had a better feel than the first half (something that was readily apparent in the stat line as well). The entire unit seemed to settle down a bit over the course, though there were definitely points where Tommy and his wide receivers weren’t necessarily on the same page, either.
Taj Harris, Nykeim Johnson and Trishton Jackson, who have been around and you would think had developed a bit of a rapport within the system, each had moments within the passing game where it seemed that timing was off, or a route wasn’t clear. This may just have been communication, but definitely will need to be addressed prior to the next game against a much tougher Maryland team.
A large factor in the early game struggles can also likely be attributed to the complete lack of game film on Liberty for the coaching staff and players to prep off of. Coming into a season-opening game completely blind is not an easy thing to do. Much of what a gameplan is composed of is based off past tendencies, and to come in with a vanilla game plan that needed to be altered based on a play-by-play assessment of what they were seeing put them a good bit behind the eight ball.
DeVito is definitely not one to defend a bad performance, and was quoted in the postgame as needing to improve —
“As an offense we’ve just got to get better, learn from it, watch the film, and even though we got the ‘W’, we could always be better in every position, everything that we do, so this week, going into practice, we’re going to be better for sure.”
He also mentioned that he forced a few of the throws that led to the two interceptions, especially the red zone turnover heading into the half. From listening to the presser, he seems very self aware of what the Orange need to improve and what they need to work on moving forward.
A few factors bode well for an extremely talented group, and the sky definitely isn’t falling, but some changes will need to be made in order to come out of College Park on Saturday unscathed. The staff should be able to scout the Terrapins much better and will be more prepared than they were in week one. Some practice game planning on the fly and adjusting, as the Orange did, adding some repeated screens into the playbook which exploited Liberty leaving the flats exposed (hence Moe Neal’s big gains on the same play a few times). The playbook may open up a little more as well, allowing the offense a bit more ability to get into a groove.