Syracuse, N.Y. —It’s a little harder to ask for these days, but Syracuse head coach Dino Babers is still going to do it.
Following Syracuse football’s 21-10 loss to Pittsburgh, the Orange are 0-2 and facing a must-win game at the new-and-improved Carrier Dome on Saturday against Georgia Tech.
Cue up the George Michael.
“You gotta have faith,” Babers said of his team’s offensive woes. “You’re definitely wishing some positive things would happen on certain calls and you’re trying to get away from some calls that maybe people aren’t recognizing or seeing it the same way you’re seeing it and the ball is going in different places than what you know it should be going.”
Babers is fond of movie references so I’ll provide one here from one of my favorites, “Ghostbusters.”
Faced with the reality of being tossed from their comfy gig at a local college, Ray Stanz turned to his co-worker, Peter Venkman, to inform him that “I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.”
That’s about where I’d put the mood of Syracuse football fans right now. In year five of the Babers era, they simply expect results.
Syracuse has scored one touchdown, piled up a paltry total of 16 points, 373 total yards and is averaging 2.8 yards per play through two games.
The Orange rank last in the ACC in points scored, total offense, rushing yards, passing yards and sacks allowed. Over the last 14 games, Syracuse has averaged 25.4 points per game. Just 21.6 against Power Five foes. (H/T John Cassillo for that stat).
Yes, the offensive line is banged up and was denied needed relief when Florida transfer Chris Bleich’s waiver was denied.
Yes, Syracuse lost top receiver Trishton Jackson to the NFL and running backs Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard to opt out.
Yes, practice time was limited in the offseason for new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert due to COVID restrictions and the cancellation of spring practice.
Yes, the new schedule Syracuse was handed by the ACC is significantly tougher than the original 2020 slate that had SU starting with Boston College and Rutgers instead of two ranked teams.
The problem with those stated reasons (some may call them excuses) is two-fold.
1. Despite the various hiccups, Syracuse has trailed at halftime against two ranked teams, No.11 UNC and No. 21 Pitt, by just four points. Syracuse entered the fourth quarter trailing by scores of 10-6 (UNC) and 21-10 (Pitt). Both are scores a team with a supposed high-octane offense could, in theory, erase quickly.
2. What is happening on the other side of the ball. New defensive coordinator Tony White’s defense has flourished so far. Perhaps White’s defense will come down to earth soon, but it has done more than enough to set up opportunity after opportunity for the Syracuse offense to capitalize.
Babers asks for faith but had little in his own team down the stretch of the Pittsburgh game.
Down 11 points with a little over four minutes remaining, Babers chose to go for it on 4th-and-6 (and did not convert) instead of allowing his Lou Groza Award winning kicker, Andre Szymt, try a long field goal.
“Trust me, I wanted to go, but I just didn’t think that Andre could hit that thing into the river side of the stadium,” Babers said. “It’s really difficult. The wind really swirls down there a lot differently. Once that expired, it would be really difficult to win with two scores.”
So why keep all three timeouts in your pocket after that and let Pitt cruise to victory?
Sure, there was a slim chance for Syracuse to climb out of that hole.
But it was a chance that required …wait for it … faith in your team instead of hopelessly watching the clock tick down.
There is also the question if the Art Briles’ offensive style that Babers is so devoted to has gone the way of the flip phone. It was once revolutionary, but many now look at as a relic.
A veteran coach talked to Yahoo’s Pete Thamel about it and seems to think so.
“The tempo thing is really overrated,” said a veteran defensive coordinator. “People are used to it, now. If you don’t have really elite players, just going fast anymore doesn’t cause the issues that it once did.”
There is time to turn things around.
Syracuse comes home for its next three games Georgia Tech, Duke and Liberty, which provide an opportunity to show whether SU can regroup and contend for a chance to save its season.
For what it’s worth, the last two times Syracuse football has started a season 0-2 (2012 and 2013), it has made a bowl game.
Can the Orange do it again?
Can Babers dig deep and get his team back on the right track?
“There is no doubt that we can clean this thing up and we’re going to clean it up,” Babers said on Saturday. “I think the defense has played extremely well for two games. It might be some of the best defensive football I’ve seen since I’ve been here. That’s not saying anything bad about anyone else. If you take away the fourth quarters when they have been out there too long based on how many three-and-outs we’ve had on offense, their first six quarters of football has been outstanding.
“It’s also the biggest drought we’ve had on offense and we need to get that changed,” Babers said.
Contact Brent Axe: Email 5/8 Twitter
MORE ORANGE FOOTBALL:
Syracuse football opens as 8-point home underdog against rebuilding Georgia Tech
Babers: Syracuse offense in a drought. Are changes coming?
Dino Babers on late-game decisions against Pitt: Potential field goal was ‘last big opportunity’
Panther Problems: Syracuse football loses to Pittsburgh 21-10 (Brent Axe recap)
After Pitt dunked on Syracuse, can any game be considered a lay-up? (stock watch)
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