The 2020 Squeeze: Syracuse Finishes 1-10
By: Kenny Van Doren, @SidelinesCuse
Tommy DeVito sees the field for the last time after a leg injury ends his senior season early. (Dennis Nett)
Syracuse entered the 2020 season ranked 14th in the ACC with only Georgia Tech behind them. It is a different season with only one out off conference game; Liberty. Before the season began, players were dropping like flies. They were opting out due to the Coronavirus. Abdul Adams, Javeon Howard, and Tyrell Richards all opted out, which made the run game look impossible. Preseason questions: will there be a run game? How will Tommy DeVito do? Will the defense step up with a lacking offense? Prediction: 5-6.
Week 1: Syracuse @ UNC, 6-31 L
Corner Ifeatu Melifonwu breaks up a pass to North Carolina receiver Dyami Brown. (Grant Halverson)
Coming into this game, I had high hopes of a good game. Sam Howell, QB of UNC, is a front runner for Heisman, and he’s going against one of the best secondaries and defensive lines in the ACC. Syracuse would stay on UNC’s tail until the fourth quarter and would end up falling 6-31. Syracuse had many chances to score in the red zone and never came up with anything in the second half. At halftime, the score was 6-7, and it looked like the Orange had a chance. The only downside UNC should have taken from this game is that they barely came away with this win. They won it in the 4th quarter. The defense played great, but they were gassed by the fourth, but they forced two interceptions on Sam Howell. On the offensive side of the ball, Tommy DeVito could not get an air attack going, and all he could do was run the ball better than the running backs.
Week 2: Syracuse @ Pitt, 10-21 L
Tommy DeVito is swarmed by Pitt's defensive front. (Syracuse.com)
This game hurt. It was the second straight week of playing an AP ranked team and another game of missed opportunities. Another week of no points in the second half, another week of a gassed fourth quarter, etc. Pitt struggled on offense all game, while the Syracuse defense had another interception. Rex Culpepper was the story of the game. The cancer survivor had the first and only touchdown pass of the season for the Orange to Taj Harris. Other than that, the air game was non-existent again, while the freshman running game excelled from their performance the week before. We saw more struggles with the Syracuse offensive line, as the loss of Chris Bleich made it look like a revolving door. Another week that a ranked opponent should not feel great at all, Pitt had so many chances to lose this game with a struggling Kenny Pickett under center.
Week 3: Georgia Tech @ Syracuse, 37-20 W
Trill Williams returns an interception for six. (Syracuse.com)
Unfortunately before the game, Andre Cisco collided with a teammate on the sidelines while warming up; he was sidelined in sweatpants with a limp. Yet, with the secondary losing their best player, they still dominated. They racked in 4 interceptions, one being a pick six. The defense made big stops, but here is where we saw the run defense regress. On the other side of the ball, OC Sterlin Gilbert changed the play style, letting Tommy DeVito air the ball out. DeVito finished with 195 yards on 13/24 with 2 touchdowns. He also added in some TE action for the first time this season along with his first touchdown pass of the season. Along with the air game, the freshman backs stood out. Sean Tucker had 112 yards on 24 carries along with 2 touchdowns. This week showed the potential of both sides of the ball against a weak Georgia Tech team. The Orange were 1 touchdown away from 44 points, which would have been sentimental to the newly renovated Dome. This was a great win going into the bye.
Week 4: Duke @ Syracuse, 24-38 L
DeVito hits Taj Harris down the sideline for a huge touchdown play. (Syracuse.com)
Duke opened as 1 point favorites against a Syracuse offense that exploded the week before. Duke QB Chase Brice entered the game with 3 TDs and 7 INTs, showing the same amount of easy playing for the defense as last week against Georgia Tech. Well, this is not what happened. The Orange were playing a 0-4 Blue Devil team that had issues with their offense, and the Orange defense was not there. They let Brice throw all over them. Brice finished with 270 yds, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. Yet, the defense was not the only struggle. The offense led by Tommy DeVito regressed from two weeks ago. As they started to open the field with big, long plays, DeVito still had issues with short, easy passes, and the running game wasn’t as explosive as the week before. A very upsetting week for the Orange; they should have come into this and dominated. Unfortunately, Tommy DeVito was injured and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. This game is one of the worst in the Dino Babers era.
Week 5: Liberty @ Syracuse, 21-38 L
Rex Culpepper takes the reins as starter Tommy DeVito fell to injury the previous week. (USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse opened as underdogs for a 5th straight week, but this time it was against their only non-ACC opponent, the 4-0 Liberty Flames. The Orange were down two of their highlighted players with the season ending injury of Tommy DeVito and the opt-out of future Sunday player, Andre Cisco. Liberty is a lower end Division 1 program that has had recent success against Power 5 schools, and they showed it. The Flames threw for 182 yards, but that wasn’t the stand out. They ran for 338 yards, while averaging 7 yards an attempt. This Syracuse run defense was lockdown the first 3-4 weeks, then just plummeted like that. On the other side of the ball, Rex Culpepper got his first start of the season and looked decent. He won Syracuse player of the game, while slinging 211 yards and 3 TDs. The big issue for the Syracuse offense was the young run game. They have been on and off the last couple weeks, but they showed their struggles once again with an average of 3.6 yards an attempt. Two stand alone takes from the game were Taj Harris flipping off the camera and Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze dominating the school that offered him the biggest check. Will this be the turning point to the end of the Dino era?
Week 6: Syracuse @ Clemson, 21-47 L
The Syracuse defense taunts Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence as they caused him trouble early in the game. (Ken Ruinard)
Syracuse opened with a .06% chance of winning this game according to ESPN. While facing the AP #1 ranked school in the country, the Orange didn’t seem to be down on themselves. Without Taj Harris due to his disciplinary issues last game, Nykeim Johnson and Anthony Queeley combined for 141 receiving yards, but all of Johnson’s 84 yard came on one touchdown pass from Rex Culpepper. This seems to be a reoccurring trend for the Orange offense; throw deep one play and have it work, then self-implode. Culpepper struggled with 3 picks, but the defense picked off Trevor Lawrence too and returned it for 6. This was the first pick six given up by Lawrence ever. The pick by Garret Williams put them back in the game, but it wasn’t enough. The Orange were in striking distance at 21-27 half way through the third, but Clemson pulled away.
Week 7: Wake Forest @ Syracuse, 14-38 L
Syracuse defenders crash on the Wake Forest running back. (Mark Konezny)
Another week means another tough weekend in Syracuse. The Orange opened as 14 point underdogs and had Sean Tucker and Trill Williams out. This game was a huge representation for how this season went. Rex Culpepper continued to struggle while going 15-27 for 85 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs. With this being said, I think it is time to move on from Culpepper and look to one of the freshmen for the future. This season is lost at this point, and now it is time to develop the youth. The young run game continued to get better with Cooper Lutz rushing for 81 yards on 15 carries. Looking at the other side of the ball, the defense is battling injuries, but if it was fully healthy, they would be top tier in the ACC. The rush defense was a stand out, but is now the biggest issue. Without Andre Cisco and Trill Williams, the secondary had some cracks. Hopefully, JaCobian Morgan comes into start next week and gets acclimated with the starting job. On to Boston College.
Week 8: Boston College @ Syracuse, 16-13 L
JaCobian Morgan starts his first game for the Orange, while he adds a dual threat concept to the backfield. (Mark Konezny)
This was a tough game to swallow. The Orange entered as underdogs for the 8th straight week and fell to a very underrated BC team. Syracuse switched it up for this week as they started JaCobian Morgan at QB. He played last week, and it was very well hinted that the team is starting to look to their future. With Trill Williams opting out, the defense is in shambles, but still only gave up 1 touchdown all game, the rest of the pointers came from the leg of kicker Aaron Boumerhi. With only three games to go, it is a great time to end this chapter. The Orange had the talent, but it didn’t show. Injuries, COVID, and anything else you can think of drastically damaged the 2020 season. Syracuse will have their second bye, but travel to Louisville the following week.
Week 9: Syracuse @ Louisville, 0-30 L
The Syracuse defense had some trouble stopping the ground attack of Malik Cunningham. (Jamie Rhodes)
On the first and only Friday game of their season, the Orange fell once again to a very overly hyped Louisville Cardinals team coming into the 2020 season. The Orange had a great chance to bring an upset into their 9th straight game favored to lose. JaCobian Morgan came off his first college start and was expected to pick up where he left off in a hard loss to Boston College. Morgan went 5/12 with 40 yards and an interception and was inevitably benched for senior Rex Culpepper. Culpepper didn’t show as much either while going 1/4 with 5 yards. The only offensive standout was the running game with the underclassman duo of Sean Tucker and Cooper Lutz combining for 105 yards on 19 carries (5.5 yds per carry). The defense tried all that they could with 2 picks and another turnover, but this game was another defining moment for the Orange in 2020. The defense did all they could, but yet again, the offense couldn’t reach the end zone. The Orange would then travel home to face the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
Week 10: NC State @ Syracuse, 29-36 L
Rex Culpepper is sacked on third down with the clock rolling, which ended in a spike on 4th down. (Mark Konezny)
The Orange once again entered as an underdog in their final home game of 2020, which is remarkable because of the high amount of home games that were placed in the faulty, renovated Carrier Dome. Rex Culpepper got his starting reigns back and looked great until the 4th quarter. The Senior went 23/45 with 254 yards and 2 TDS. It seemed like the offense made a huge shift and was ready to heave passes down field as Taj Harris was having a Randy Moss day with 13 receptions for 146 yards and 1 TD. As the movement of Tommy to Taj was dying, the era of Rex to Taj came back to life. The rushing game decreased substantially this week as Sean Tucker only ran for 18 yards on 16 carries, but the defense again was doing all that they could. The Orange defense/special teams picked off NC State QB Bailey Hockman along with a kick return TD from Trebor Pena. Yet, the defining factor of this game is what Rex Culpepper did in the 4th quarter. As the Orange were approaching the red zone, they were losing time to put up 7 and force overtime. Culpepper was sacked on 3rd down, rushed to the line with less than 10 seconds left, and spiked it on 4th down. The Orange traveled to South Bend to wrap up their 2020 season.
Week 11: Syracuse @ Notre Dame, 21-45 L
McKinley Williams hunts down Notre Dame QB Ian Book. (Matt Cashore)
For the last game of the season, the Orange opened as underdogs for the 11th time in 11 games. Along with about every game this season, Syracuse showed sparks of talent and ability but couldn’t hold up. In the second quarter, the Orange were leading 7-3 but it collapsed after a Cooper Lutz rushing touchdown. Rex Culpepper stayed at the helm after taking over for JaCobian Morgan two weeks ago, but Dino Babers threw out freshman Dillon Markiewicz for a drive and finished 0/1. The Orange defense got another pick and showed light of a great future, but the offense is struggling and might continue to struggle next season.
The 2020 Syracuse Orange finished 1-10, while my projection was 5-6, I didn’t expect the constant opt-outs and injuries. We can’t put full blame on Dino Babers as he lost a lot of his team, and it seemed he could make a decent impact in the ACC. Babers could be on the hot seat, and as much as we can back him, 1-10 does not look good no matter what happens to your team. The Orange will not be Bowl Game eligible and will start Spring Football in a couple months.