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Self Scouting the Opponent: Clemson vs. Syracuse

Clemson v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

One of the new things the ACC SB Nation blogs are doing this year is a sort of self-scouting series. Each site was asked to provide a season preview-esque update on their team, the idea being that opposing teams could use it as an information dump. Next up on the list is Syracuse. A big thanks to John at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician. As a note this was written before the season started and injuries have hurt Syracuse and changed some of this information.

Key Departures:

  • Alton Robinson, DE
  • Trishton Jackson, WR
  • Kendall Coleman, DE
  • Sterling Hofrichter, P
  • Moe Neal, RB

Key Returnees:

  • Andre Cisco, DB
  • Tommy DeVito, QB
  • Taj Harris, WR
  • McKinley Williams, DT
  • Trill Williams, DB

Key Additions:

  • Chris Bleich, OL (Florida Transfer)
  • Cody Roscoe, DE (McNeese State)
  • Stefon Thompson, LB (True Freshman)
  • Ben Labrosse, DB (True Freshman)
  • Chase Atkinson, DB (True Freshman)

Brief overview of 2020 team:

Back in March, Syracuse was a rebuilding team that was correcting some problems with new coordinators on both offense (Sterlin Gilbert) and defense (Tony White). The very manageable non-conference schedule was going to be key to getting the Orange back to the postseason, despite losing a number of key contributors from last year’s group. And then everyone went to hell.

Despite Dino Babers making the smart move to shake things up from a scheme perspective, the lack of on-campus practice time this offseason means they had few opportunities to really implement the changes live. While I respect their decisions, SU’s top two running backs — Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard — and linebacker Tyrell Richards all opted out, and that does make things tougher. Additionally, SU’s revised schedule basically traded in Rutgers, Colgate and Western Michigan for North Carolina, Notre Dame and Duke. Not ideal...

This season will ultimately get decided by how much the offensive line can protect Tommy DeVito, and how much the defense can lean on what should be an exciting secondary. While we were once pretty optimistic the O-line would improve, the new depth chart hints at several injuries and we have a fullback starting at guard. Syracuse QBs were sacked 50 times last year. We can’t repeat that and expect anything good.

Key players to know on offense:

Tommy DeVito, QB: Despite being under siege for much of his first year as the Orange’s starting QB, DeVito still completed 63.2% of his passes for 2,360 yards, 19 touchdowns and 5 INTs. Babers’s offense is very reliant on the quarterback position, and this group will go as he does.

Jawhar Jordan, RB: Last year’s s four-game preview of the speedy Jordan was a thrill, as he collected 316 total yards and a score while averaging over 11 yards per play from scrimmage. With Adams and Howard sitting out, the run game now relies on him. We’ll see if his quickness translates to what’s mostly an up-the-gut rushing attack, however.

Taj Harris, WR: After two years in more of a supporting role, Harris is now the team’s top wideout and has the talent and ability to put up some impressive numbers as a junior. He has great hands and is an excellent route-runner, along with a quality blocker as well. Harris also knows how to operate in any part of the field, which should prove valuable if DeVito’s under pressure once more.

Key players to know on defense + special teams:

Andre Cisco, DB: Cisco’s the country’s active interceptions leader (with 12) and now that he’s seemingly been let loose a bit in SU’s new rover role in the 3-3-5 switch, it could mean his playmaking ability becomes even more pronounced.

Trill Williams. DB: Trill is one of the fastest players on the team, and despite being used situationally for his first two seasons at SU, he’s still managed three picks, two touchdowns and 2.5 TFLs in the lhat time. Now, he’s the new starting free safety and could wind up being another ball-hawk for teams to actively try and avoid.

Andre Szmyt, K: The former Lou Groza Award winner is nearly automatic from inside 40 yards, and with the run game and O-line questions Syracuse may have this year, his kicking ability could once again be needed to help bail out some red zone struggles. In two seasons, he’s 47-of-54 on field goal tries, including 34-of-35 from 40 or closer and 4-for-4 from 50 or further.

What is your team’s biggest strength?

The secondary’s ability to flip the field. Since embracing a defensive philosophy that emphasized high-risk/high-reward play in the secondary back in 2018, SU’s collected 31 interceptions. There are potentially at least three future pros among the defensive backs (Cisco, Trill and Ifeatu Melifonwu), so it’s not the worst thing to switch to a scheme that puts them in the best position to make plays.

What is your team’s biggest weakness?

Linebackers. Syracuse was already going to be pretty young there after graduating most starters for a third straight year. Yet, without Richards, sophomore Mikel Jones is the only player on the two-deep with any real collegiate experience. Linebacker struggles have been a big part of issues stopping the run, and it seems likely that continues for at least the first half of 2020.

Who is your team MVP?

If Syracuse is able to put together a respectable season and win five or six games, then it has to be DeVito. Cisco can put up big numbers on defense all day. But without the offense doing its part and scoring points as this scheme is intended to do, it’s all for naught. DeVito was definitely banged up for the back half of last year, and had to work through that, a shoddy line and some bad habits. As long as the line holds up, he should be improved this year, which could mean record-setting (for Syracuse) numbers despite one fewer game.