More than a new Dome: Syracuse football defeats Georgia Tech 37-20 (Brent Axe recap)

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Syracuse, N.Y. —It’s going to be hard to top this one as the most unique home opener in Syracuse football history.

Carrier Dome 2.0 opened on Saturday with its eye-popping new scoreboard, fresh field turf and new fixed roof, the nearly-finished product of a $118 million renovation.

It really hit that a new era was here with the sight of doors propped open at the Dome, an act that would have earned you a slap on the wrist in the past.

There is even air conditioning!

No paying customers were there to see the Orange take on the Yellow Jackets, a lingering annoyance of the COVID-19 era.

COVID-19 procedures also delayed the start of the game by 30 minutes. Syracuse stepped in to double-check tests on three players as the Orange were literally about to run on the field for Saturday’s game.

“Today’s Syracuse University football game against Georgia Tech was briefly delayed to allow for additional COVID-19 testing,” Syracuse University said in a statement.

“As part of Syracuse University’s and the ACC’s protocols, our student-athletes are tested multiple times throughout the week including on the Friday before games. All of yesterday’s tests came back negative. Out of an abundance of caution, we retested three members of our football program before kickoff of today’s game. These tests came back negative as well. This protocol was administered in consultation with the Onondaga County Health Department. Our testing protocol worked as it should; this is exactly why we have implemented such a strict and robust testing program. Syracuse University, and its ACC partners, have established and continue to implement a comprehensive public health strategy to safeguard the health and safety of all of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and communities.”

SU unveiled a ring of honor across from the press box that featured the names of Jim Boeheim, Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little and Dwayne “Pearl” Washington painted on the walls. What do you say we add Gary Gait and a female athlete or two to that list, Syracuse? Just sayin’.

Anyway, what’s that you ask? Oh, the game!

Well, believe it or not, Syracuse’s play on the field was a bigger deal than the new car smell of the Dome with an impressive 37-20 win over Georgia Tech to improve its record to 1-2 heading into a bye week.

Syracuse now has time to lick some wounds, including a rather strange pregame injury to one of its star players, and has given reason for the Orange faithful to keep paying attention to football beyond the month of September.

“0-2? That’s a lollipop,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said.

“Nobody wants to start off 0-2. It’s one of those deals where you realize that you are close on certain things. You are playing good opponents, you want to be a good opponent as well. Until you go out there and do it and let the damn bust a little bit, it starts to mount up on you. It was good to finally get some balls in the end zone. It was good to have more than one touchdown in a game. It was good to see the defense and the special teams do the things that they did. Now we have to get better. We finally got that off our back, we have to get better.”

The Sunny Side

Tucker’s Town

Sean Tucker

Syracuse running back Sean Tucker (34) runs for a touchdown in the first quarter against Georgia Tech during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. (Dennis Nett/The Post-Standard via AP) APAP

Freshman running back Sean Tucker gave the Syracuse offense a rare sight in the wild on Saturday―a 100-yard rusher.

Tucker rushed for 112 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns against the Yellow Jackets. Tucker became the first Orange rusher to exceed 100 yards since quarterback Eric Dungey in 2018.

Tucker scored the first touchdown in Carrier Dome 2.0, breaking free for a highlight-reel worthy score. Tucker burst up the middle and after a defender spun him to the ground, had the field awareness to realize his knee did not graze the shiny new Dome turf and charged ahead for a 38-yard score.

“He really did his job,” Babers said. “He really got after it. I’m happy for him. The O-Line and the running back coaches and everyone else that they finally got a hundred-yard rusher. That was awesome.”

Tucker’s hard-charging style is a welcome and needed addition to the Syracuse offense. The Orange had been averaging just 59 yards per game on the ground this season. Tucker’s charge led an effort that piled up 163 yards against Georgia Tech.

On the day the Dome re-opened just past 40 years of its opening night, Tucker reminded of Joe Morris running all over the Carrier Dome turf in 1980, running for 170 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-24 win over Miami of Ohio.

DeVito Does It

Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech

Syracuse Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito (13) during a game against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. Dennis Nett |

Welcome to the 2020 season, Tommy DeVito. It’s nice to see you again.

DeVito took advantage of the pressure taken off the quarterback position by Tucker’s rushing performance to throw for 194 yards on 13-of-24 passing with two touchdowns and one interception.

The most welcome stat in DeVito’s performance? He was sacked just once against Georgia Tech.

DeVito connected on beautiful touchdown throws of 43-yards to Nykeim Johnson and 46-yards to Taj Harris. The deep ball has never been DeVito’s issue, but it was still reassuring to see him connect on what he does best.

“It was good to see him hit some deep balls,” Babers said. “We’ve had some trouble with that, but he put two on the money.”

Babers and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert opened up the playbook and allowed DeVito to cook a little more against the Yellow Jackets.

There were more targets for tight ends Aaron Hackett and Luke Benson (hooray!) and quick slants to the receivers to keep the ball moving. DeVito’s clock was ticking faster against the Yellow Jackets.

The Syracuse offense ran 65 plays against Georgia Tech, below where they ideally want to be in that department, but made the most of the field position handed to it by a dynamic defensive performance.

Takeaway Parade

Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech

Syracuse Orange defensive back Trill Williams (6) runs in for a touchdown in the fourth quarte against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.

Dennis Nett |

The Syracuse defense forced five takeaways against Georgia Tech, but it is one in particular that will mark the time.

In the fourth quarter, freshman safety Ja’Had Carter intercepted a pass from Georgia Tech QB Jeff Sims and began his sprint down the field. When Carter ran into a crowd of would-be Georgia Tech tacklers, he tossed a lateral to Trill Williams, who finished off a wild, 66-yard return for a touchdown.

It was the YES! NO! WHAT! YES! moment that people will remember from the debut of Carrier Dome 2.0 and provided Williams with another epic touchdown return to go with his 94-yard score against Wake Forest last season.

“I think that we give our guys a little freedom and they definitely take advantage of it,” Babers said. “Some things are not as free as others, but we do have a bottomline result. If the bottomline result is you better score, because if you don’t you’ll be taking out the trash for a long time in this family. It seems like Trill always seems to come out on the right end where someone else has to take out the trash and not him.”

The Oprah GIF came to life on the field on Saturday as it seemed every Syracuse defensive player got a turnover as a welcome gift to the Dome’s reopening.

Freshman Rob Hanna snagged a pass from Sims, who is a talent with a bright future at quarterback but is struggling with turnovers in his first season.

Josh Black snagged a tipped pass for an interception that led to an Orange field goal. Williams set up one of Tucker’s TD runs with a pick.

Tony White’s defense has produced ballhawks in the first three games of the season, collecting 10 turnovers overall.

Young Guns

Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Dontae Smith (28) during a game against Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. Dennis Nett |

Tucker, a freshman, led the Orange in rushing.

Carter, a freshman, provided the game’s most-exciting play.

Hanna, a freshman, led Syracuse with nine tackles and had a turnover.

Mikel Jones, a sophomore, was all over the field again for Syracuse and is developing into a star at linebacker.

Geoff Cantin-Arku, a sophomore, had seven tackles and provided consistent pressure on Sims.

Garrett Williams, a freshman, had a key pass breakup and is showing he can hold his own at cornerback.

Babers has quite a string of players developing on the field that can’t buy beer but can make plays.

Special Teams Show

It was a wild ride for Syracuse and Georgia Tech special teams on Saturday.

First of all, watching 6-foot, 255-pound punter Pressley Harvin III kick the ball is a pleasure. He may be the most unconventional punter you’ll ever see, but man does he get the job done. Harvin III had seven kicks for 345 yards, averaging nearly 50-yard per boot.

Syracuse blocked a Georgia Tech field goal attempt.

Syracuse kicker Andre Szymt had an extra-point attempt blocked and missed a 53-yard field goal. He did make one from 47-yards out.

Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins made a questionable call with a fake on the point-after following the Yellow Jackets’ first score.

Harvin III’s run may have have given Georgia Tech a boost, but it failed. Syracuse responded with a long kickoff return by Nykeim Johnson and, two plays later, a 46-yard bomb from DeVito to Harris for a touchdown.

The Dark Side

Cisco Concerns

Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech

The Orange takes on the YellowJackets  on Saturday, Sept.26, 2020, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. All-American safety Andre Cisco (7) did not play after colliding with a teammate in pregame warmups.

It’s strange to discuss a game where the Syracuse defense had five takeaways and Andre Cisco wasn’t on the list of players who got one.

The reason Cisco didn’t get a chance to join the turnover party is even stranger.

As reported by WAER’s Gill Gross, Cisco collided with teammate Ed Hendrix during pregame warm-ups. Cisco was noticeably limping after the play and when caught on camera a few times during the television broadcast.

“We’ll see about Cisco,” Babers said. “Sometimes things just happen. They’re fluke things. We’re going to wait and see what the doctors say. He’s so important to what we do.”

Hopefully the bye week will bring Cisco the rest he needs to get back on the field.

Syracuse has a lot of young talent in its secondary, but you don’t want to lose the services of an All-American on a friendly-fire fluke play.

Run Issues

Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Dontae Smith (28) during a game against Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.Dennis Nett |

Even with the bevy of turnovers, the Syracuse defense did have its issues against Georgia Tech, especially against the run.

Syracuse gave up 275 yards rushing to the Yellow Jackets, who averaged 5.3 yards per rush. Jahmyr Gibbs ran for 109 yards. Donate Smith piled up 84 yards. Jamious Griffin had 57 on the ground. QB Jeff Sims rushed for 46 yards.

Missed tackles and pursuit angles were an issue for the Orange defense throughout the day.

The Orange defense at one point allowed Georgia Tech to convert a 1st down and 35 situation.

This, That and the Other Thing

Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech

The new Carrier Dome scoreboard hangs off the center of a newly constructed roof.

  • Saturday’s win was the first for Syracuse over Georgia Tech in four tries. The Orange is now 1-3 against the Yellow Jackets overall.
  • Syracuse is 92-33-4 in home openers. The Orange have won seven of its last eight home openers including four of five under Babers.
  • Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech was the latest home opener in Carrier Dome history and the latest for the Orange overall since hosting Kansas on Sept. 26, 1970.
  • Saturday was Georgia Tech’s first trip to New York State to play a college football game since 1925, a 16-7 loss to Penn State played at Yankee Stadium.

Tweet of the Game

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