That road isn’t going to be easy but the sigh of relief is real. As mentioned two weeks ago in this space, a loss against the Tar Heels could have doomed the season for the Orange. It would have sent Syracuse toward a showdown with ranked NC State and a likely 4-4 record. A still haunting reminder of last year’s failings.
That didn’t happen though. Down seven late in the fourth quarter, Orange head coach Dino Babers sent in redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito. Babers’ decision found vindication as the young quarterback led a touchdown drive to send the game to overtime. DeVito led two more touchdown drives in the extra period to lift Syracuse to victory.
With only one win required to make it to a bowl game in December, it feels a little brighter in Central New York.
That good feeling begins with the remaining schedule. Last season, the Orange managed to stun Clemson in the Carrier Dome and finish off a Pitt team they have beaten only three times since 2002 despite playing every season. It’s safe to say last year’s ACC run was disastrous even in spite of the win against a playoff team.
Bad losses to Wake Forest, Louisville and Boston College in 2017 firmly drilled the nails into the coffin of the lost season. This season those spots look a little brighter for an Orange team that, despite recent form, is a better version of itself.
The Demon Deacons and Cardinals, in particular, are bad teams. Wake needed overtime to beat a 2-5 Tulane team in the season opener and have been shellacked in conference play by Clemson, Boston College, and Florida State(a team Syracuse beat handily earlier in the year).
Louisville is even worse. The Cardinals have two wins, against Western Kentucky and Indiana State (who have a combined four wins this year), and have lost the remainder of their schedule. One of those was against Alabama so isn’t really indicative of their season. However allowing 66 against Georgia Tech (the Yellow Jackets’ only conference win of the season) proves that this Cardinals team isn’t very good this year.
In other words, there are winnable games left on the schedule. And Syracuse only needs one.
The other reason to be hopeful is DeVito. It’s a small sample size so there’s no need to get too excited. Yet DeVito has looked good this year and he just rescued a win for the Orange.
Eric Dungey has had an up-and-down season. He looked great to start the year and it’s a surprise he’s as healthy as he is this deep into the season, but his limitations are known. As a true dual threat, when he’s given opportunities to run around and keep defenses from committing, he can cause serious problems for whoever he faces. However, when defenses force Dungey to become a pocket passer, the offense stalls.
DeVito, on the other hand, can throw every route and opens up the offense despite not being as prolific with his legs. Going 11-for-19 with three touchdowns (and an interception) and 181 yards doesn’t look great if he starts the game. But to do that when entering the game with 5:07 left in the fourth quarter. That’s something Syracuse fans can get a little excited about.
It was a close call against the Tar Heels but the Orange overcame. Next week, a good performance against a really good Wolfpack team should hopefully spur Syracuse back into the mentality they need to get that final win, regardless of the result.
One takeaway that shouldn’t be lost here is that this is Babers’ most successful season in charge of the Orange. If they fail to make a bowl from this position, however, it will certainly feel like his most disappointing.
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