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ATHENS, Ohio — Syracuse tied its season win total from last season with a victory in its season opener over Ohio, the pair’s first matchup since 1921. The Orange held Ohio’s rushing attack — which ranked No. 7 in the nation in 2019 — to just 134 yards. SU finished with 280 rushing yards, led by Sean Tucker, who recorded 181 yards.
Syracuse (1-0) held on for a 29-9 win against Ohio (0-1) on Saturday.
Here are three takeaways from SU’s season-opener:
DeVito’s up-and-down play
Tommy DeVito wasted no time getting started with Syracuse’s offense after head coach Dino Babers put him in the starting role over Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader in the depth chart earlier this week. He worked quickly on the Orange’s first drive, aided by a 47-yard run from Tucker on the second play of the series.
On the next play, DeVito delivered the ball to Taj Harris on a bubble pass, before handing off the ball to Tucker on first-and-goal. Tucker was only able to get to the 6-yard line, and Syracuse set up for its next play. DeVito made it seem like the Orange were running the same play for Tucker, but DeVito kept it himself and waltzed into the end zone. In six plays, the Orange found the end zone and forced a safety on Ohio’s ensuing offensive play to take a 9-0 lead early in the first quarter.
Still, DeVito’s early success led to some struggles in the second quarter. He missed Harris on a touchdown pass, forcing the ball too strong to the end zone sideline. On the next play, Babers left DeVito alone in the pocket with an empty look, but he stepped up in the pocket before getting caught from behind for a sack.
At the start of the third quarter, DeVito again missed passes and was unable to connect with Harris and Courtney Jackson on long bombs. Both passes were a little too deep, going through the hands of each receiver.
Throughout the fourth quarter, DeVito stayed on the field even though Babers hinted that Shrader would get some playing time in the opener. He continued to make the right reads on run-pass-option plays, and did so on a 17-yard gain with six minutes left.
Duce Chestnut impresses at cornerback
Highlighting Syracuse’s 2021 recruiting class was Darian “Duce” Chestnut, a 3-star recruit out of New Jersey who won the starting job at cornerback during training camp. Throughout the team’s three weeks at campus before the beginning of classes, Chestnut wasn’t “timid” — something that Garrett Williams said he expected from players shifting to the college level.
“He’s tough,” linebacker Mikel Jones said. “He knows what to do with his mindset. He knows that he belongs on the first team since he got here.”
Chestnut showed that he belonged from his first series, making a one-on-one tackle on De’Montre Tuggle’s third-and-1 run. Although Tuggle was able to get the first down, Chestnut squared up Tuggle two plays later to force a third down.
At the end of the second quarter, Chestnut made another tackle to force a third-and-9 and finished the half with the six tackles, the most on the team.
In the second half, Chestnut jumped a route to almost make an interception on Ohio’s opening play of the period. He continued to secure the left of the field as Ohio tried to run the ball. As O’Shaan Allison broke out of one tackle at the end of the third quarter, Chestnut nailed him into the ground. On the next play, Ohio tested Chestnut’s pass-guarding abilities again, but Chestnut nailed the intended receiver while he caught the ball, forcing fourth down.
With five minutes left in the game, Ohio drove down for one final attempt to cut the lead. The Bobcats were able to get to the 26-yard line, and quarterback Kurtis Rourke dropped back for a pass. Chestnut read the quarterback’s eyes, and Rourke overthrew the ball. Chestnut extended his left hand out, bobbling the ball into his body for the interception, halting Ohio’s comeback. He finished with eight tackles and one pass breakup.
Stopping the run
Syracuse’s 3-3-5 defense was built to withstand the spread attacks that most teams run. But Ohio runs the ball downhill on almost every play, ranking No. 7 in the nation in yards per carry and No. 8 in average rushing touchdowns in 2019.
To stop the rushing attack, Syracuse put six players in the box, as the Bobcats rarely ran with another tight end to help with blocking. On most plays, Syracuse was able to stop the run by having one of the linebackers, usually Mikel Jones, make the tackle or by adding another defensive lineman at the line of scrimmage.
The Orange’s cornerbacks are also forced to make a lot of tackles with the defense and the defensive backs delivered, sealing the edges on every run play. Syracuse’s defensive backs finished with 31 tackles in the game, and Chestnut led the bunch with eight.
In the second half, the defense continued to stuff most run attempts, only allowing a few to break for at most nine or 10 yards. SU was able to stop the Bobcats in the red zone, holding them to no touchdowns in the game.
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