Despite improvement, Syracuse’s passing game still a work in progress

first_img Published on September 11, 2019 at 10:30 pm Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @A_E_Graham Facebook Twitter Google+ Tommy DeVito wants to be a passer. His arm is what made him a coveted four-star quarterback recruit out of high school. He wants it to be why he’s successful in college. But his line through two games as Syracuse’s full-time starter — 506 yards on 60.8 percent completions, three touchdowns, as many interceptions and fumbles — leaves a lot to be desired. “We moved the ball a little bit better on offense,” DeVito said after SU’s drubbing at the hands of Maryland, “but we need to be able to execute more in the red zone and I’ll take the blame for that.”Syracuse’s (1-1) passing offense has been a shell of previous iterations two games into the 2019 season. DeVito is a stylistic departure from what Eric Dungey brought to the position, and while DeVito and his wideouts adjust to each other, SU’s passing attack has stalled at times. DeVito and his wide receivers are confident they’re inching closer to the second-nature comfort level they seek with their schemes, but slight improvements might not be enough to match up with No. 1 Clemson (2-0) on Saturday night. “The passing game was definitely better from Week 1 to Week 2,” DeVito said. “And it’s going to be better moving forward.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSyracuse’s passing game is delicate. It’s carefully orchestrated, made to get at least one person open in space and prompt chaos defensively. Developing route-running consistency takes time and constant repetition. And if any aspect is off — a route run to the wrong depth, a receiver breaking at the wrong time, or the offensive line lapsing — it can blow up a whole play. In the first three years of Dino Babers’ tenure at SU, the Orange eclipsed 3,000 yards passing with ease every season, averaging nearly 300 yards per game. Against Liberty, DeVito looked completely out of sync with his receivers. On one play, he tried throwing a corner fade to Taj Harris in the end zone, requiring a lofted ball deep into Harris’ hands. Instead, DeVito threw it short and shallow, and all Harris could do was spin wildly, deflecting the ball incomplete with a jutted-out hand. DeVito also pitched two interceptions against the Flames — the first an underthrown deep route to Nykeim Johnson in the end zone and then a ball he tried muscling in to Harris while scrambling. On both, communication broke down between DeVito and receivers during a scramble drill. When the quarterback is flushed from the pocket, receivers should work back to the ball as the quarterback weighs passing, scrambling or throwing it away. In SU’s first two games, DeVito and his receivers weren’t in lockstep about where he wanted them to go and how long they should expect to keep fighting to get open. “We watched film on it and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Johnson, DeVito’s intended target at Maryland, said. “Wherever he wants me to go, that’s where I’ve got to go.”Eva Suppa | Digital Design EditorBesides bolstering the connection between DeVito and his receivers, the Orange’s offensive line can help improve the passing game. DeVito’s been sacked six times in two games. Even when he’s not been sacked, he’s had to leave the pocket while under duress, often disrupting the looks he expects to get.Through the spring, summer and fall camp, the Orange spend days repping its passing schemes, creating a blueprint. But that blueprint’s been bent, broken and sometimes thrown out entirely this season. DeVito and his wide receivers struggle to overcome the disruption of timing and spacing is at the crux of Syracuse’s problems. “It’s different when a live defense is out there because the pictures change, defense reacts different ways,” DeVito said. “So it’s better to go against a live defense that doesn’t know what’s coming, as opposed to our defense that’s kind of used to seeing the stuff all camp.”Some of it is solved through film, identifying situational preferences for DeVito and the pass catchers so they know what to do in the future. The rest is rapport. DeVito and his wideouts don’t have the same connection Dungey developed with his at the end of his senior season. Some targets like Harris, Johnson and Trishton Jackson are still relative newcomers. Senior Sean Riley has only played with DeVito sparingly in his two starts this season and spot action in 2018. They all say it’s a matter of repetition and time to start clicking. Johnson, who is close friends with DeVito, noted that their connection is beginning to manifest. He and DeVito can communicate checks by looking each other in the eyes at the line of scrimmage, he said. “Tommy gives us signals that you can’t see on TV,” Johnson said. “He directs traffic with his eyes. With his feet. Sometimes we just connect in the game. That’s all it’s about.” The Orange looked better connected against Maryland, but a one-game sample is nothing certain. SU’s offense may keep improving on its current arc, but it’ll need a massive leap to have a chance at beating Clemson. Commentslast_img

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