Jackets travel to Syracuse for first time

The Jackets will have to do a better job of holding onto the ball this coming Saturday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. The team had five turnovers against UCF, three of them by quarterback Jeff Sims. // Photo courtesy of ACC Media

For the first time in the history of the program, the Jackets will travel to Syracuse, NY to take on the Orange this coming Saturday in the historic Carrier Dome. This is only the fourth time the schools have met on the football field, partially due to the strange scheduling method employed by the ACC, which only allows teams from different divisions to face off once every six years. The last meeting between the Jackets and Orange was in 2013, the latter’s inaugural season in the ACC. Tech won that game by a resounding score of 56-0, but both programs will look significantly different on Saturday, as both teams have made coaching changes since then.

Syracuse is led by head coach Dino Babers, currently in his fifth year with the program. Babers and company will be looking for their first victory of the season after two losses against ranked teams in the first two weeks. The Orange fell to 25th-ranked Pitt 21-10 last week, one week after being dealt a 31-6 defeat at the hands of 18th-ranked North Carolina. The team’s biggest struggle so far this year has been on the offensive side of the ball, as they have only managed to find the end zone once so far. Syracuse has done a very poor job of protecting starting quarterback Tommy DeVito, surrendering 14 total sacks over the two contests. DeVito’s performance has been very underwhelming, and he might be in danger of losing his starting spot to backup QB Rex Culpepper, who delivered the only offensive highlight of the season when he fired a 69-yard touchdown pass to Taj Harris in the second quarter against Pitt. Culpepper, a senior, is a cool comeback story, as he has been able to successfully return to the playing field after a battle with testicular cancer. It is likely that both DeVito and Culpepper will take some snaps under center on Saturday.

On the other side of the ball, Tech will face a stiff test against a Syracuse defense that has performed admirably so far this season. Despite the abysmal production offensively, the Orange have been able to compete into the fourth quarter of both games thanks to first-year defensive coordinator Tony White’s unit. Tech fans should watch out for sophomore linebacker Mikel Jones, who already has two interceptions to his credit this year, as well as a fumble recovery last week against Pitt.

Meanwhile, the Jackets will look to build on their success over the last weeks on the offensive side of the ball, while also cutting down on the mistakes that proved to be so costly against UCF this past Saturday.

Freshman running back Jahymr Gibbs became the second straight Jacket to win ACC Freshman of the Week honors after he racked up 219 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns against UCF. In the absence of junior running back Jordan Mason, who was unavailable for unknown reasons, Gibbs had a 75-yard kickoff return to open the game, setting up Tech’s first touchdown of the game. He then caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Sims in the second quarter and ran for a 33-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Freshman quarterback Jeff Sims won the award last week for his performance in the season-opening win against Florida State. Sims filled up the stat sheet for a second straight week, throwing for 244 yards and rushing for 82 against the Golden Knights, but he also committed two interceptions and lost a key fumble deep in UCF territory.

Overall, the Jackets committed five turnovers, which makes winning a football game virtually impossible at this level. Sims and company will need to tighten things up against a stout Syracuse defense.

Defensively, Tech will look to rebound from last week’s performance. UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns in a scintillating performance. Tech struggled to keep up with UCF’s fast-paced offense, as the Knights ran 92 plays en route to 660 yards of total offense, which were the second-most by a Tech opponent in school history.

The Jackets showed signs of fatigue defensively in the fourth quarter, and were already missing several players, including Curtis Ryans, a hero of the Florida State game. The hope is that UCF will have prepared the Jackets well for Syracuse, who also runs an up-tempo offense, albeit much less talented.
Tech had some success against the Knights, forcing two turnovers and getting two fourth-down stops as well, and the hopeful return of Ryans and others should help the team produce a better performance defensively
on Saturday.