This Saturday, there was an interesting Syracuse sporting event and no, it was not a Final Four game. It wasn’t even a lacrosse game.
It was the football team’s spring game, the public debut of Dino Babers as the head coach and what his uptempo offense would look like in the orange and blue (and platinum) of Syracuse.
Simply reading about 13 touchdowns being scored (I admit, I tweeted that there were 6,371 of them, so it must have only felt that way) and some of the big plays logged sure makes it seem like the offense will be explosive, the defense will have some problems, or both. And the truth is somewhere in the meaty middle.
Just understand two things to keep the spring game in proper perspective:
- The offense has the advantage.
The early portion of the game featured the offense starting drives from their own 20-yard line. After that, drives started at the 40- or 20-yard-line on the defensive side of the field.
With the game play aimed at getting a look at both sides of the ball in specific situations, including (or especially) red zone, the game is slanted for the offense to post gaudy numbers.
There were zero fourth downs in the game. After getting a stop, the defense was rewarded with… the offense getting another set of downs. Good luck with that, defense.
- Both sides of the ball are learning new systems.
Babers’ offense gets all the headlines, but the defense is under a new staff, too, so bumps along the way are to be expected. While playing against a relentless offense looking to get as many snaps off as possible (they got 155 off in the spring game) maximizes reps for the defensive players, it’s also a lot of stress to be under.
These things considered, there were certainly some positives to be taken away from the game.
Eric Dungey threw seven touchdown passes, but that is not the most important number he posted. Rather, it was 81.8. That is not his QB rating, but his completion percentage, as he hooked up with his receivers on 27-of-33 passes.
Four different running backs got carries and all of them had moments looking like strong contributors. George Morris II, Dontae Strickland, freshman Moe Neal, and Jordan Fredericks piled up nearly 300 yards on the ground and all but Strickland scored. Each one ripped off chunks of yards on the ground at various points. For being a guy on campus for just a few months and listed at only 167 pounds, Neal looks like a guy opponents will not look forward to dealing with for four years.
Alvin Cornelius III was credited with three touchdown catches, including a couple deep ones. With 18 receptions in his first three years, it looks like Cornelius is going to be a much bigger contributor as a senior.
The defense is going to take some time. Zaire Franklin and Paris Bennett, two of last season’s starters at linebacker, wore green jerseys to signify they were limited-contact players. The defensive line is low in numbers and even lower in experience. If you need evidence of that, there are eight players listed on the defensive line. Three of them are there for the first time at SU, including Kenneth Ruff, who played at linebacker in high school last year and arrived on campus in January.
One final thing to take away from the spring game is this:
After the team ran 155 plays in about 90 minutes (there was a five-minute halftime break), head coach Dino Babers said, “We’ll never be that slow again.” And he means it.
Syracuse fans, the man earlier asked for you to have some faith, or belief without evidence. And, if you’re just reading reports about the team and haven’t seen how Babers likes to run an offense, I’d like to share something with you:
That is a 15-minute clip of all of the offensive plays that Bowling Green ran in their game at Tennessee last season. In case you are wondering why that is a link to college football played by two teams who wear shades of orange that are not associated with Syracuse, I gently remind you that Babers was the head coach at Bowling Green last year.
Without all the commercials, replays, and running clock between plays, essentially half a football game (the Falcons ran 85 plays in the 26:09 they had the ball) is reduced to 15 minutes, but I only want you to watch the first four.
On the first play, if you stop at the 14:55 mark on the game clock, you can see the head linesman spotting where the ball should go after the first play. Since it was a running play, the game clock continues to run even though the clip you are watching is edited. Anyway, just as the game clock goes to 14:47, the ball is snapped.
That’s eight seconds from the end of one play until the ball is snapped again.
And the third play is a deep ball. The game clock stops with 14:03 left so the chains can move downfield. After the ball is set and the officials start the game clock, the next snap is at 13:58.
Five seconds after the ball was ready for play, the ball is IN play.
Are you starting to fully understand the pace of the offense?
And it’s not just the offensive tempo. It’s how Babers manages his offense.
If you scroll ahead in the footage to the 1:29 mark of the clip, you’ll see Bowling Green lined up about one foot outside of their own end zone on third-and-19. You’ve seen this before, right? They’re just gonna hand off to that running back and try to pick up some extra room for their punter for fourth down.
To their credit, they at least fake to the running back, figuring the defense is expecting a run play from their two-tight end package in that down and distance scenario. Instead of handing off, though, the ball is thrown 30 yards downfield, looking for a big play, or even a pass interference flag to get them first down.
Now move ahead to the 3:26 mark of the clip. It’s fourth-and-three for Bowling Green at their own 13-yard-line and their offense is lined up. Here’s the audio:
Play-by-play man: “They’re gonna go for it, Andre. They’re keeping the offense on the field. Fourth-and-three, trying to surprise Tennessee or get ‘em to jump?”
Color commentator: “No way, they’re just trying to get ‘em to jump here.”
Just let the clip play.
Bowling Green snaps the ball and hands it off, picking up almost 20 yards.
This is the mindset of Dino Babers. Taking a team from the Mid-American Conference to the home of an SEC team and going all out, not playing by the book and not playing scared. Twice in the first half, they opted against passively punting deep in their own end of the field and playing “the field position game”.
This is now how Syracuse is going to play on offense. So get ready, Syracuse fans. The hashtag is true. Orange is the new fast.