Dome Sweet Dome: SU football opens renovated Carrier Dome with decisive victory
SU football defeats Georgia Tech in Dome opener
Following a 0-2 start and delayed kickoff, Syracuse burst onto the field for the first time in the newly renovated Carrier Dome to defeat Georgia Tech University 37-20. The Carrier Dome opened with a victory in 1980, and the victory against GT marked the first time that the Orange have defeated the Yellow Jackets in series history.
Prior to kickoff, the game was delayed 30 minutes to ensure negative results from three SU players’ rapid tests. With medical concerns alleviated, the Orange took the field to defend their empty stadium for the first time this season.
True freshman running back Sean Tucker exploded onto the scene for the Orange, toting the ball 24 times for 112 yards and two scores. Averaging 59 rushing yards as a team entering the game, Tucker’s output and big-play ability helped to establish a struggling Syracuse offense.
Tucker scored the first touchdown of the game for Syracuse by rolling over a would-be tackler and keeping his knees off the turf for a 38-yard rushing touchdown.
In the postgame press conference, head coach Dino Babers reminisced on the life of recently deceased NFL Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers and likened his ability to shake off tacklers and fight for extra yards to Tucker’s performance.
“Sean really looked like he was going to run the ball different today,” Babers said. “He came out in the second and third quarter and really did his job.”
Syracuse defensive end Josh Black snagged an interception for the Orange following the Tucker touchdown. Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims was hit by linebacker Kingsley Jonathan, causing the ball to flutter to Black. On the ensuing drive, kicker Andre Szmyt converted a 47-yard field goal to increase the Orange’s lead to 10-0.
Sims was hit again on the following drive and coughed up another interception to Trill Williams, who returned the ball to the Georgia Tech 37-yard line. Syracuse capped off the drive with another Tucker touchdown from four yards out and took a 17-0 lead.
Williams was seldom targeted in the team’s first two games, and prior to the game, he was asked about maintaining his focus on the field during times of inactivity.
“I would say it gets a little boring out there,” Williams said. “But when you get bored, that’s when (the opposing offense) feels they can take a shot at you and test you, and hopefully they get a big play. But if they want to throw at me, be my guest.”
Quarterback Tommy DeVito under-threw Harris deep down the Syracuse sideline, which resulted in a GT interception, but after the game, Babers said that Harris had an opportunity to prevent the pick on what he said was a well-thrown pass.
The Yellow Jackets, motivated by the turnover, drove the ball into SU territory and capped off their drive with a 24-yard passing touchdown on fourth-and-eight to cut the lead to 17-6.
The SU offense struggled to score against their first two opponents and was held to a combined 16 points in the two contests. In the press conference leading up to the game, wide receiver Taj Harris was asked about the offense’s frustrations with their current performance.
“Frustration? I wouldn’t say that it’s frustration,” Harris said. “Every offense is going to have problems. We’re making sure that we get our timing down, making sure everyone is held accountable for what they have to do.”
In response to the interception, DeVito capitalized on a short field set up by a Nykeim Johnson kickoff return and found Harris for a 46-yard touchdown strike. The Orange led 23-6 and regained a three-score lead despite a blocked Szmyt extra point.
Georgia Tech responded with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive aided by missed tackles and defensive penalties. The GT offense came alive in the second quarter with 125 yards rushing at a clip of 7.4 yards per carry, and the Yellow Jackets cut the lead to 23-13 entering halftime.
The SU defense started the second half much like the first with continued pressure on Sims that led to the Orange’s third interception of the game. Defensive back Rob Hanna caught the overthrown pass and cradled it to the ground for no return.
Unable to capitalize on the mistake, Syracuse’s offense stalled and punted the ball back to the Yellow Jackets. Despite penalties creating a first-and-30 for GT, an extended play by Sims helped the team pick up a first down into Syracuse territory. SU’s red zone defense stymied the GT offense at the goal line, and Tyrell Richards blocked a 27-yard field goal to keep the SU lead at 10.
Offensive woes for the SU offense returned at the beginning of the third quarter as the team mustered just six yards rushing. The Yellow Jackets cut the lead to three with a short rushing touchdown before DeVito found Johnson for a 43-yard touchdown strike to regain a 10-point lead 30-20.
With just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Ja’Had Carter caught Sims’s fourth interception of the game. On the return, Carter appeared to be stopped by GT tacklers, but he lateralled the ball to Williams who ran the ball in for a touchdown from around the Yellow Jacket 40-yard line.
After the game, Williams said that the return touchdown was not as spontaneous and uncoordinated as it may have appeared.
“That was just a crazy play,” Williams said. “Me and Ja’Had, we’re roommates, so we talked about, ‘hey, you catch a pick and feel like you’re about to get tackled, just pitch it back.’ It just happened to happen today.”
Following an extra point by Szmyt, Syracuse reclaimed a 17-point lead over Georgia Tech with just over eight minutes remaining in the game.
The fourth interception brought on a change at quarterback for the Yellow Jackets as redshirt freshman Jordan Yates entered the game. On fourth down of Yates’s first drive, defensive end Cody Roscoe broke through the line to strip the ball for the team’s first sack of the afternoon. GT recovered the ball, but Syracuse took over inside the 10-yard line.
Syracuse used their final drives of the game to run out the clock, capping off the victory in the home opener in the renovated Carrier Dome.
Coach Babers spoke after the game about the dome and likened the new speaker system and operation to a high schooler trying out their new speakers in the parking lot after school. While he said the dome impressed him and the team when they first saw it, the game was bittersweet for Syracuse.
“A little disappointing to open a place like this without the community and the student body,” Babers said. “It’s a special place, and I can’t wait to share it with (the public) when (they) get an opportunity to come in and see it.”
Defensively the lack of a crowd did not hinder the team, and although the Orange allowed 453 yards, the team held the Yellow Jackets to 20 points. The Syracuse defense had forced two or more turnovers in each of their first two outings and followed up with four interceptions against GT.
The success of the SU defense came without starting safety Andre Cisco, the FBS active leader in career interceptions, who collided with teammate Ed Hendrix, a redshirt-sophomore wide receiver, in pregame warmups.
The team’s game captain limped off the field nearly two hours before kickoff and did not return for the remainder of warmups. Cisco took the field with the team prior to kickoff without his pads and did not play in the home opener.
In the press conference leading up to the game, Cisco said that the team worked on their miscommunications on the field to prepare for their home opener.
“From week one and week two, I feel we improved a little bit,” Cisco said. “It’s really important to take advantage of our home-field advantage and keep emphasizing the little things, the details.”
The team hopes Cisco can rejoin the defensive backfield for its next game against Duke University on Oct. 10. The time has yet to be determined, but the teams will square off in the Carrier Dome.