Syracuse’s offense struggles in season opener loss to No. 18 UNC

SU offense struggles in 31-6 loss to UNC

Strong defensive showing led by safety Andre Cisco wasn't enough for the Orange to win delayed season opener.
Published: September 12, 2020
Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito (13) scrambles to avoid UNC defender Jahlil Taylor (52) in first half action against North Carolina at Kenan Stadium on Saturday, September 12, 2020 in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito (13) scrambles to avoid UNC defender Jahlil Taylor (52) in first half action Saturday against North Carolina.

For three quarters on Saturday, Syracuse kept up with No. 18 North Carolina enough and entered the final quarter trailing only 10-6.

But much like the start to this football season, the inevitable was delayed and SU gave up 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to lose 31-6 in its season opener in Chapel Hill.

SU squandered numerous opportunities early in the game to break the defensive stalemate, while the offense managed only 202 yards on 70 plays. In the postgame press conference, head coach Dino Babers said the team would look to the film to make adjustments for next week’s matchup against Pittsburgh.

“The bottom line is they had a convincing win over us,” Babers said. “We got an idea of where we’re at now. I still think we’re good.

“Now we need to go back and work on some things and bring some other people along.”

Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito (13) dives for extra yardage in first half action as the Orange face the UNC Tar Heels in ACC football action in Chapel Hill, N.C. Saturday, Sept. 13, 2020.
Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito (13) dives for extra yardage in first half action Saturday in the season-opening loss to North Carolina.

The Syracuse offense converted on just 4-of-19 third down conversions and had 15 total first downs throughout the afternoon. Babers said new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s offense is fast-paced and aggressive and requires scoring and execution to help the defense rest between series.

Babers credited the defense for its playmaking ability, especially safety Andre Cisco, who recorded his FBS-leading 13th interception among current players. While happy with the performance by new defensive coordinator Tony White’s unit, Babers said he expects the defense to look even better in the coming weeks once they have shaken off their “camp legs.”

Defensive end Kingsley Jonathan credited the defensive performance —including his own sack that prevented a UNC touchdown — drive to the team’s secondary.

Despite the loss, Kingsley said that taking the field with the team was a welcome experience amid COVID-19 shutdowns across college football.

“It felt really good to be out there with the guys,” Kingsley said. “We all felt it, and we were blessed to be out there to be able to play the game we love. Everything’s all crazy until I step on the field and then it’s like, it’s football. That’s all it is. Just football.”

Syracuse defenders swarm to bring down UNC's Michael Carter (8) in first half action in Kenan Stadium Saturday, September 12, 2020 in Chapel Hill, N.C. Fans have been prohibited from attending the game due to the COVID-19 virus.
Syracuse defenders swarm to bring down UNC's Michael Carter (8) Saturday.

Echoing the sentiments of Kingsley, Babers said that he spoke with an official about the excitement of college football and his thankfulness to be in the ACC, one of three Power Five conferences that elected to start the season.

The experience of the 2020 college football season is quite different this year especially for fans who are unable to attend games in person. But for Babers, the lack of non-cardboard fans was an afterthought because of his focus on coaching.

“I was so locked in the next time I looked up it was halftime, and I saw those cardboard things in the endzone, and I hadn’t seen them the whole doggone game I was so locked in. It may be different for the fans, and I understand that, but when you’re playing the game of football, you better be locked in on what’s going on inside those white lines. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as some people believe it is.”

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is a magazine, news and online graduate student and contributor for The NewsHouse.