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Against Duke, the Syracuse defense did what it’s always done: forced turnovers. But SU struggled to stop the Blue Devils’ run game, allowing 645 total yards of offense, 416 of which came in the first half.
It was still a 10-point game in the first half, after the Orange forced three turnovers and dropped two more interceptions. But ultimately, Syracuse’s (1-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast) offense couldn’t keep up in a 38-24 defeat to Duke (1-4, 1-4 ACC).
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Run defense woes
Duke’s game plan was clear from the first drive: run the ball up the middle. Without Syracuse safeties Eric Coley and Andre Cisco, their replacements struggled to make open-field tackles, allowing two 45-plus yard runs in the first half.
The Blue Devils routinely pushed back the Orange defensive line, creating gaping holes for running backs Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant. The two combined for 332 yards and two scores after entering the game with 427 combined yards in their first four games.
Safeties Cam Jonas and Rob Hanna were often stopped in their tracks, sometimes colliding with other defenders. On one occasion, Geoff Cantin-Arku dove at Jackson’s legs, but he juked left and dashed past the defensive back for the first down.
Duke relied on inside runs, often to the right side, exposing a weakness in Syracuse’s defense. With just three defensive linemen and three linebackers on most plays, there were obvious holes near the line of scrimmage. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe routinely called plays, pulling tackles and guards to find running room for Jackson and Durant.
DeVito needs more help
Drops, drops and more drops. Any time the Syracuse offense had any momentum, a dropped pass killed it. Three drops came on long throws from quarterback Tommy DeVito, the first being a ball that Courtney Jackson saw fall right through his hands in the first half.
In the third quarter, DeVito dropped a perfect back shoulder throw to Taj Harris — who had a step on the cornerback — that was almost identical to Harris’ first quarter touchdown. But the receiver couldn’t haul it in, and the Orange punted right back to Duke to open the second half. The third, which came on a third down and long where DeVito escaped the pass rush, hit Jackson’s hands.
After that first quarter touchdown from Harris, SU’s offense converted two of 12 third downs, scoring just one more touchdown. DeVito was often left with little to no time, and when he did buy time, his receivers were barely open. DeVito ended with 13 completions on 26 attempts. He left the game in the fourth quarter, after he was sacked from behind and ended the game with crutches and a boot on his left foot.
Even as Cutcliffe picked apart the defense, Syracuse still managed to produce turnovers. Three fumbles in the first half, one of which returned for a touchdown by Cantin-Arku, helped the Orange stay within 10 points.
A Mikel Jones interception in the third quarter took away a Blue Devils red zone opportunity, as the SU linebacker read Chase Brice’s eyes, stepping over the middle to haul in his third pick of the season.
SU has created two turnovers in all its games and at least three in most, aside from the loss to Pittsburgh. Even without All-American safety Cisco, defensive coordinator Tony White’s defense handed the offense chance after chance to score.
But it was too many missed opportunities on both sides of the ball that handed the Orange its third loss of the season. Two dropped first half interceptions allowed the Blue Devils to score points, creating a lead that Duke wouldn’t relinquish.