By JOHN KEKIS
The Associated Press
Syracuse is .500 after four games and after Saturday faces a two-week stretch to correct any issues before Atlantic Coast Conference play begins in earnest.
Orange coach Dino Babers knows it’s a work in progress.
“Saw some good, saw some bad,” Babers said Monday after a 52-33 home win against Western Michigan. “Still continuing to grow. I think they got better.”
The Orange (2-2) host Championship Subdivision foe Holy Cross (1-2) on Saturday before going into a bye week.
Syracuse began the season with a 24-0 road win over Liberty and the victory on the weekend came after bad losses to Maryland and Clemson. Syracuse scored a combined 26 points in those games.
“Football is all about adversity and how you respond to it,” Babers said. “To be able to have those two losses and be able to come back this weekend, produce and hold our own, so to say, in the Dome, means a lot. It shows how much character we have in the room.”
The Broncos still put a lot of points on the board to continue a disturbing trend since the opener. In the past three games, the Orange defense has allowed 137 points and 1,819 yards — an average of 603.3 yards a game — and is ranked 124th nationally in total defense.
Still, Syracuse is tied for the top spot in the nation with 11 turnovers gained — six interceptions and five fumble recoveries. The Orange recovered three fumbles and intercepted a pass against Western Michigan to extend their streak of consecutive games with a takeaway to 18, the third-longest active streak in the Bowl Subdivision.
“I hope that we start getting more of the defense that we saw earlier in the year,” Babers said. “The one thing that our defense has been outstanding about is getting turnovers. As long as they keep giving us extra possessions, we’re going to have opportunities to win games as long as we’re efficient on offense.
“We have the type of defense that we feel like we can shut people down. We’ve got to get some of those scores a lot lower than they’ve been.”
Standout safety Andre Cisco and cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu were held out of the Western Michigan game because of injuries, and the Broncos took advantage of some poor tackling. WMU scored three touchdowns of more than 40 yards — runs of 43 and 47 and a 60-yard pass play. The Broncos also converted seven of 16 third downs, though they were foiled four times in five tries on fourth down.
Offensively, quarterback Tommy DeVito passed for a career-high four touchdowns with no interceptions and ran for 85 yards and another score in a performance reminiscent of his predecessor Eric Dungey.
The running in DeVito’s fourth career start added a dimension that was lacking in the first three games, and it started with a 60-yard scoot on the second play from scrimmage.
“It’s him reading what’s in front of him. We don’t always call those plays,” Babers said. “The touchdown run was not designed. It was just him seeing something and taking off, which is really good for us. When we do stuff like that, we make us more difficult to defend.
“The more that we spend time together the better I feel,” Babers added. “He’s young at heart, but he’s got a very mature side to him. He’s easy to deal with. I think he’s going to continue to get better.”
Another plus on the offensive side was the performance of wide receiver Trishton Jackson, one of eight players with at least one reception. Jackson had six catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns, the second time in three games he’s topped 100 yards.
He was voted ACC receiver of the week.
“It’s a really exciting time,” Babers said. “I’m glad from an offensive standpoint that we finally stopped our streak with the interception part of it. But it would still be good to come out of a game where we have no turnovers.”