ATHENS, Ohio (AP) — Sean Tucker set a career high with 181 rushing yards and a touchdown as Syracuse pulled away from Ohio in the second half for a 29-9 win in its season opener on Saturday.
The Orange scored nine points in the first quarter and never looked back. Tucker broke free for a 47-yard run on Syracuse’s second offensive play to put the Orange in the red zone and Tommy DeVito scampered for a 6-yard score.
Syracuse then took advantage of a muffed kickoff and forced a safety by tackling De’Montre Tuggle in the end zone.
“I thought it was a good performance,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “That’s not a gimme football team. That’s a football team that’s going to challenge for their side of the conference. The foundation that coach (Frank) Solich has left there and the way they do things, they’re really first class. They’re a difficult bunch to beat and very seldom do they ever quit.”
DeVito played his first game after suffering a season-ending leg injury in Syracuse’s fourth game of the 2020 season, connecting on 11 of 17 passes for 92 yards and added 47 yards on the ground.
The Bobcats failed to score a touchdown in Tim Albin’s debut as head coach. Albin succeeds Solich after 16 years as the team’s offensive coordinator.
“I told the team I thought we battled,” Albin said. “They fought and just couldn’t get the touchdown to put the heat back on Syracuse. We had them on the ropes, I thought, a couple times. Just couldn’t punch it in.”
Stephen Johnson, a transfer from Oklahoma, made three field goals of more than 22 yards after missing a 50-yard attempt on Ohio’s opening drive.
Jerome Buckner led all receivers with 102 yards on seven receptions for the Bobcats.
The win matches Syracuse's win total from a year ago after the Orange went just 1-10, snapping an eight-game losing streak.
“It feels good to start off on the right foot,” DeVito said. “It definitely helps get that bitter taste out of your mouth that we’ve been holding onto for a long time now. But, we have another opponent coming up next week and we have to focus on them.”
True freshman defensive back Darian Chestnut capped his college debut by hauling in his first-career interception on Ohio’s final passing attempt to ice the victory with 2:29 to go in the game.
“It’s a dream come true,” Chestnut said. “Worked all summer for this, worked all my life for this, really. I just had to get an interception.”
Chestnut added eight tackles and a pass breakup that came on fourth down as Ohio drove to Syracuse’s 21-yard line with 2:21 left in the third quarter and played a key role as the Orange defense kept the Bobcats from capitalizing despite finishing their last three drives just 27 yards from the end zone.
“The defense felt the energy,” Chestnut said. “They got in the red zone a lot but couldn’t score, so that’s just the energy bringing the defense together.”
Syracuse: Tucker looks to build on his impressive freshman campaign. He was just the third true-freshman in team history to post multiple 100-yard games in 2020 and added another in the season opener.
“It was a good win today,” Tucker said. “I just want to give my credit to my O-line. They opened up a lot of holes for me, got some good blocks and let me get up to the second level and do what I can do.”
Ohio: The Bobcats split quarterback duties, albeit briefly, between Kurtis Rourke and Armani Rogers. Rogers made two passing attempts and put a jolt into the Ohio offense with a 32-yard completion to Buckner with 6:16 in the third quarter, his only completion of the game.
Ohio will try to earn Albin’s first win at home when it plays host to Duquesne.
Syracuse plays its home opener against Rutgers.