For Syracuse Football, Scoring Has Not Come Easy

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 6:45 pm by Sports Editor

By Patrick Gunn

CitrusTV Reporter

Syracuse Football’s (1-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast) worst moment in their 38 to 24 loss to Duke (1-4, 1-4 ACC) came when starting quarterback Tommy Devito left the game in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. That will be the last time he takes the field as a player for the Orange.

With Devito out for the season, the Orange look to Rex Culpepper to carry the load of the offense from the quarterback position. If Culpepper is going to succeed in leading the team, the rest of the Orange offense need to perform at a higher level than they have this season so far.

Take their last loss against Duke. Devito as 13 for 26, not very accurate. With that said, he through for 255 yards, an average of 9.8 yards per attempt. He threw the ball well, getting the ball down the field on several occasions and putting his receivers in good positions to make plays.

His receivers let him down.

On several occasions, receivers either made drops on catchable throws, costing SU several first downs in the middle of the game, allowing the Blue Devils to stomp on Syracuse’s defense. And they were not only dropping deep balls, they lost key plays on screen passes and crossing routes over the middle short as well. Even Dino Babers acknowledged this point after the game.

“You can’t have that many dropped balls if you’re going to be attacking people in the back end that way,” Babers said. “The throwing percentage was down, but if you really go back, there were some key drops and I thought that there were some of the opportunities that some of them made on the football could have been a little bit better.”

So far, Taj Harris has been the only consistent presence on that end of the ball. He has 17 receptions for 338 yards, averaging 19.9 yards per catch and picking up three of the Orange’s five receiving touchdowns. He’s also been their main deep threat, with three receptions of at least 45 yards this year.

Aside from him, the Orange only have 368 receiving yards spread out between 10 pass catchers. Simply put, players need to step up. That may come from Nykeim Johnson, who has a 43-yard reception and is only two years removed from a 565-yard receiving year in 2018. With that said, Johnson only has 217 total yards over the past two seasons on just 29 receptions. He’s been nonexistent the past two seasons, and he needs to step up.

Another group that has mostly disappeared are the tight ends. Aaron Hackett and Luke Benson have combined for just four total receptions in four games. Admittedly, that’s more on the play calling. Benson showcased what he can do, when he took a short pass from Devito 53 yards to the house against Duke last week. Last year, the two combined to score nine touchdowns, the Orange need to make more of an emphasis on getting the ball to their tight ends.

The running game has been abysmal thus far, and that comes from a mix of poor offensive line play – again – and a lack of depth. Loosing Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard at the start of the season hurts, and then losing Jawhar Jordan for the season hurt even more.

Here, though, SU has some life with Sean Tucker. The freshman has totaled 165 yards on 36 carries for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. Add in his receiving totals, and the freshman has over 200 all-purpose yards over the last two games. With that said, Tucker only had 13 touches last week. If Syracuse wants to improve their rushing numbers, they need to keep feeding Tucker the ball.

Which brings me to the final piece: the offensive line. Improving the O-Line was a massive point of emphasis coming into this season. They have not gotten better, allowing 21 sacks so far, the most sacks allowed in the NCAA. If Culpepper has no time in the pocket, or if Tucker has no running lanes, then the previous points made are mute.

Culpepper may not have the arm strength of Devito, but he’s been here for several years and has overcome a lot to get to this point. And he has talent, remember, he completed a 69-yard touchdown play to Harris against Pitt in week two.

“He knows this offense as good as anybody,” Babers said at a press conference before the game on Monday, “and it’s just a matter of executing and doing things right and being consistent in what we do.”

The execution and the consistency of SU Offense is what makes this group questionable.

The Orange might have the weakest group of offensive weapons in years this season, weighing in all factors. They’ll have a chance to prove otherwise on Saturday when they host Liberty (4-0, Independent), a team that has averaged 33.5 yards per game and 442.8 yards per game. Granted, those numbers came against weaker opponents, but Syracuse’s tattered offense leaves too much to be desired right now. | @patgunner_