So, now the question is: What do they have in mind for an encore?
The Syracuse football team showed flashes of the potential many seem to think it has in its 24-0 shutout win over Liberty University last weekend. But according to the Orange themselves, there is also plenty of room for improvement. And there will clearly need to be some improvement for the early season success to continue.
Head coach Dino Babers admitted he was nervous about his team’s first game. And taking on a team that won its opener 79-0 won’t likely help to calm those nerves. Babers says despite replacing its head coach and quarterback from a team that beat Texas last season, the Terrapins are a team to be reckoned with. Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson threw for 4 TD in his first half of football for Maryland, and he also has a 1,000-yard running back to hand off to when the passing game isn’t clicking. And 79 points against anybody is a good day.
But if there’s one area in which the Orange seem to have a distinct advantage, it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Syracuse returns 8 starters on defense, the same number of starters Maryland lost to graduation. And while both defenses pitched opening-game shutouts, the Orange at least blanked an FBS opponent while the Terrapins took down at team from the FCS. One of the two defenses will be exposed in this game, and my guess is it will be Maryland’s. Assuming of course the Syracuse offense works out its opening week kinks.
Tommy DeVito did not look good in his first college start last Saturday completing less than half of his passes while throwing two of them to the other team — both in the red zone. The redshirt sophomore said Tuesday night his confidence in his own and his team’s abilities has not wavered with just a few minor timing issues to work out this week. He and teammates Trishton Jackson and Moe Neal all said they believe this Orange offense has the potential to score a lot of points this season. And I expect to see some of that come to fruition this week against a rebuilt Maryland defense that may be a tad overconfident after handling Howard last Saturday.
Another advantage Syracuse takes into this game is having a road win already under its belt. And although Liberty is a far cry from a Big Ten conference environment, Flames fans were loud and involved throughout most of last weekend’s game. Meanwhile Maryland’s stadium featured more than 20,000 empty seats in the Terps’ home opener last weekend, something Coach Locksley is hoping changes dramatically with Syracuse coming into town. He says he expects the game with the Orange to be tight and hard-fought, noting that in games like that the crowd can be a factor. So he’s pleading with fans to come out to “The Shell” for Saturday’s high noon kickoff.
Taking all of these factors into account, the notion that this is a “trap game” for Syracuse can be debunked right here and now. Though it falls just before next weekend’s showdown against top-ranked Clemson, this game clearly has the Orange’s attention. The players confimed Tuesday that going into the Clemson game at 2-0 on the season would feel a lot different than at 1-1, and the only way to get there is to take care of business Saturday. And with an offense and defense motivated to improve on its first performance, I’m expecting Syracuse to do just that.