0 Comments Published on 9.06.2016 by John Brennan
|The Dino Babers Era begins with a win!|
At his introductory press conference back in December, Dino Babers invited us to close our eyes and imagine an up-tempo offense that doesn't huddle, that keeps a defense on its heels & winded, that executes with precision, and that scores a lot of points. That was the brand of Syracuse Football we were being sold. The biggest question was how soon would Babers be able to showcase that type of play on the field? The answer was: game one. Of course, game one was against FCS team Colgate from just up the road. And after the game, Babers admitted it's the slowest this offense will ever play, comparing it to watching paint dry. Nonetheless, Orange fans saw a marked improvement over last year, and can only imagine the offense getting better and harder to beat going forward. For last Friday's purposes, the offense (and the rest of the team, frankly) did everything it needed to do to beat its opponent, Colgate, 33-7.
I really wanted to give an A+ here, but that would be symbolic of a perfect performance, which this was not. But it's a well earned A, and certainly gives them room to improve to earn that A+ later on. 25 first downs, 554 all-purpose yards (437 passing, 117 rushing) with an average of 6.8 yards per play. The Orange was 8-18 in third down conversions (not good) but was 3-3 in fourth down conversions. Syracuse only had to punt three times. That's how high octane this team was. Eric Dungey had a monster performance on 34-40 passing for 355 yards and two touchdowns. Grad transfer Amba Etta-Tawo made his presence known immediately, with 12 catches for 210 yards and a TD (and Erv Philips "chipped in" 14 catches for 87 yards and a TD). In fact, in all, six receivers caught the ball. The ground game was less effective: Moe Neal led the way with 68 net yards on nine rushes. Babers, recognizing the Colgate front line was just having itself a day, decided to go with the passing game since that's what was working. We'll see a more balanced approach in the future, but obviously Babers likes to go with his hot hand and won't force something that isn't working. Seems to be a good approach to coaching.
Maybe this grade would be lower, and it definitely would have been if I was writing this immediately after the game. The way the defense crumbled on Colgate's opening drive -- allowing a Raiders TD -- seemed to portend what could be an abysmal defensive season. But then the defense put on its big boy pants and went to work, shutting out Colgate for the rest of the game, holding Colgate to 11 first downs, 45 yards on the ground, 98 in the air, and ten punts. So, obviously a great effort. But watching the defense in person just seemed to be very frustrating to me; like, I couldn't get over it when they missed a tackle or blew some coverage. Hopefully they get better at that; or I get better at coping with it particularly when the net result is only giving up seven points the entire game.
In the field goals department, Cole Murphy was a perfect 4-4 with a long of 41. Unfortunately the other three tries (and makes) were stalled offensive drives inside the red zone. Not his fault, though, and he did his job. Murphy was also good on kickoffs, averaging 62 yards per kick while only getting two touchbacks. On the punts, with Riley Dixon in the NFL, our new punted Sterling Hofrichter picked up where Dixon left off, with three punts for 136 yards, a long of 47, with one inside the 20. Hopefully he's not called on a lot this season, but when he is, it's nice to have a boot to rely on.
Babers delivered on what he promised. You have to appreciate the prep work that went into teaching this no-huddle offense and actually getting it to work. Also, big props to the conditioning coaches, who made sure the players were physically prepared to run plays at that speed. And as I mentioned above, Babers shied away from the running game when he saw how dominant the Colgate front line was. I'm paraphrasing him here, but why keep on trying to do something you know isn't working, when you have another tool that is working just fine? Adapting to what's actually happening in the game is important for success, and Babers had no problem abandoning what might have otherwise been his gameplan on offensive plays in lieu of the heavy reliance on the passing game we saw.
Pretty much as good a start to the season and to the Dino Babers Era as you could hope for. Not only was it a win, but it was a very well-rounded, team win. As a Syracuse fan, you have a lot to be excited about. You know this season is going to be daunting, given the schedule we're working with. But after Friday's performance, you know this team just won't roll over and die -- they have a very real possibility of stealing a game they should otherwise win. Hell, some bowl projections have Syracuse in. Maybe my 6-6 prediction isn't that crazy after all? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. One game down, eleven more to play (hopefully more).
And of course, that next one is the traditional Week 2 ACC matchup. Last year it was Wake Forest. Doable. This year it's Louisville. So... we'll see about that! Stay tuned!