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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019 at 1:58 pm

Clayton Welch Steps Up in 27-20 Loss to Pitt

By JD Raucci

CitrusTV Football Reporter

Like it had all night, the pressure came for Tommy DeVito. On 2nd-and-10 from his own five-yard line and down 24-6, the young signal-caller knew the last thing he could do was take a sack. He evaded the first wave and tucked the football away to take off.

As he went to the ground after a three-yard gain, Pitt defensive back Paris Ford laid a hit that changed the complexion of the game. The ball came free before Syracuse offensive lineman Dakota Davis landed on top of it to help the Orange maintain possession, but the damage had been done. DeVito walked off the field in discomfort and backup quarterback Clayton Welch, who had already taken a few snaps on designed run plays earlier in the game, checked in permanently.

The redshirt senior led a valiant comeback effort, but in the end, the hole that the Orange (3-4, 0-3 Atlantic Coast) had dug for themselves was just a bit too large, and the Panthers (5-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) pulled out a big-time rivalry win on Friday night.

Despite finishing just 8-for-20 through the air, there were some flashes of brilliance in Welch’s first significant playing time. On the play immediately following DeVito’s injury, the Chico, California native unleashed a 94-yard touchdown to Taj Harris that injected some life back into the Dome. The long-ball tied the record for the second-longest pass in program history and the longest since 1997 when Donovan McNabb hooked up with Quinton Spotwood for a score against East Carolina. It was also Welch’s first career TD.

“We were running a lot of sit routes,” Welch said. “I saw the corners just wait on it, and Taj made a great play. I threw it up to him, and he made a play, and I tried to beat him down there to the end zone, but he’s a little faster than me.”

Welch tossed another touchdown late in the fourth quarter to tight end Aaron Hackett to pull the Orange within a score. But perhaps the most impressive part of his 176-yard, two-touchdown performance was not what he did with his arm, but instead what he did with his legs. He had four different carries of at least eight yards, including a 23-yarder on the first play of the second quarter. It was a bit of a surprise to see Welch move like that, but he said he didn’t think he was doing anything all that different from the young gun in front of him.

“I wouldn’t say I really added anything, we were just moving,” Welch said. “I’ve seen Tommy [DeVito] make plays with his legs, of course, and I had just had the opportunities, and they probably played me a little different. I just went in there and fought.”

Welch took advantage of every opportunity presented to him and impressed his head coach along the way.

“I thought Clayton did a nice job of coming off the bench and giving us certain things,” head coach Dino Babers said. “It was actually good to see him get out there as a senior. It might have been his last opportunity this year to play football, and hopefully, he’ll have more after that, but it could be his last opportunity, like all the seniors in there.”

Babers said DeVito was medically cleared to re-enter the game, but he elected to stick with Welch to try to help keep DeVito healthy for the long-term. That course of action does not come as a surprise with the beating that SU quarterbacks have taken this season. The Orange offensive line has allowed a nation-high 35 sacks this season (seven more than any other team), including 25 in ACC play and a season-high nine on Friday night.

“Right now, everybody’s job is in jeopardy,” Babers said. “We’re going to go through the tape, and if guys haven’t done the type of job that they’re supposed to do, then we need to start getting some other guys in there. It’s not fair to keep playing the same guys if the results don’t change.”

But just because the Orange have had a difficult time protecting the quarterback does not mean that they plan on completely changing their offense.

“Well, we could not throw the ball ever again to see if we wanted to go after a record,” Babers said. “Or, we can keep competing and getting better, so that down the road we can go through a bunch of games where we never give up a sack based off of how much practice time and how much game experience these guys have in the future.”

As for the quarterback situation going forward, Babers is unsurprisingly keeping that one close to the vest.

“We just have to see how guys heal up. It’s not fair to either one of those guys [Tommy DeVito and Clayton Welch], or fair to me until I go back and watch the tape and go see how they heal up,” Babers said. “If you’re asking me who’s better, I know who’s better. Now, we’ve got to see who’s healthy and who’s not healthy. I don’t want to give anybody any more advantages. We need to keep all the secrets we can for the next week.”

That next week will undoubtedly be a challenge, as well. The Orange head down to Tallahassee, Florida, on Saturday, Oct. 26, for a date with Florida State (3-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast) at Doak Campbell Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m.

jdraucci@gmail.com | @JDRaucci