College Football is back! After concerns surrounding player safety threatened to cancel the fall season, the majority of the Atlantic Coast Conference began play today. Slated for the early afternoon game, Syracuse lost to North Carolina in their 2020 season opener.
A bright sport for head coach Dino Babers and the team was the defense. The 31-6 final score does not do justice to the impressive showing from the backfield. Junior Andre Cisco continued his nation-leading interception campaign with collecting his 13th of his career. He wasn’t the only IMG Academy grad to bring in a pick. Mikel Jones also picked off a Sam Howell pass. This was the first of the sophomore linebacker’s career. That all sounds good, so there must be a reason why the game ended in a 25-point deficit. That brings us to the crippling offense.
If there were any expectations that this year’s attack would be stronger than the previous, they were flushed down the toilet. The defense and special teams units both forced turnovers, giving Tommy Devito and company great field position. SU just couldn’t get into the endzone. It was hard to watch. The second-year starting quarterback wasn’t the only one to blame for the poor play. The offensive line allowed seven sacks to the Tar Heels. UNC’s Chazz Surratt and Ja’Qurious Conley both notched multi-sack performances. A poor offensive line showing not only means sacks galor, but also a dull running game. Redshirt freshmen Jawhar Jordan was expected to be an exciting back to watch. Today, the running back was the exact opposite, rushing for under two yards per attempt. That stat is an identical one to the ground numbers for Devito, but the quarterback look better. This is another case of the final results not revealing the whole story. Unlike the National Football League, yards lost in sacks are deducted from the signal callers final numbers. If the sacks didn’t count, Devito would have finished with 68 rushing yards, which is pretty good for a passer known for his big arm.
Going back to a positive note, the special teams stayed consistent and picked up exactly where the unit left off. That is saying a lot since Syracuse lost former All-ACC First Team punter Sterling Hofrichter to the NFL, where he now suits up for the Atlanta Falcons. Despite that, Nolan Cooney did a nice job in replacement. The highlight of his day was forcing a muffed punt that was recovered by Orange long snapper Aaron Bolinsky, adding to the total turnover list. Former Lou Groza Award winner Andre Szmyt had a hit or miss kind of day. Literally. The kicker only tried three field goals, but completely shanked one of them. The kick after that one was also suspect. This was definitely not what was expected from the veteran kicker.
The game really opened up in the fourth quarter. Going into the final 15, North Carolina only lead by four points. But then came the barrage. UNC quarterback Sam Howell led his team to score 21 unanswered points for the commanding victory. While the sophomore QB led the downfield charge, junior running back Javonte Williams led the actually scoring by breaking the plane three times.
This trampling was not how Dino Babers and the Orange wanted to start their season, but they are back on the field against Pittsburgh Saturday at noon for a try at redemption.