Despite the snow currently resting on the roof of the Carrier Dome, it is technically springtime in Syracuse. The Orange hosted its annual spring football scrimmage on Saturday, giving fans a preview of things to come this fall. Just four months into the Dino Babers era for Syracuse football, there was a lot to take during the scrimmage.
Let’s break down some of the bigger takeaways from Saturday’s scrimmage:
This Offense is Fast, Like Crazy Fast
Don’t blink when the officials place the football on the line of scrimmage or you might end up missing the snap. When Babers was named the new head of Syracuse Football, much was made about the up-tempo offensive style that propelled him to success at Bowling Green. Saturday’s scrimmage did not disappoint Orange fans hoping to see how the new coach might apply his philosophy in Syracuse.
From what we saw Saturday, “Orange is the New Fast” is not just a marketing slogan, it’s a reality. Going no-huddle for most of the scrimmage and taking quick snaps on the line, the Orange employed a fast-paced, aggressive offense that has the potential to keep defenses on their heels and their hands on their hips for most of the game.
Commenting on the speed of play after the scrimmage, running back Dontae Strickland told reporters that the offense was nowhere near where they will be when fall rolls around.
“The coaches said that once game time comes around the season we’ll be going 150 mph. Right now they said, we are probably going 50, 25 [mph],” Strickland said. “At first, when they said that to me, I was just shocked but right now we are doing pretty good.”
If that’s the case, Syracuse fans should start conditioning themselves right from now, because defenses are not the only ones who are going to be worn out from the new system.
Backfield Ready to Run
Quarterback Eric Dungey had an excellent day through the air on Saturday but the ground game looked just as impressive as Babers put his stable of running backs through their paces. Although he did not score during the scrimmage, Strickland made his presence felt on the field as he pushed through several tackles to pick up extra yards after contact.
Joining Strickland from behind the line were fellow sophomore Jordan Fredericks and George Morris II. Both running backs scored touchdowns during the scrimmage while also breaking free for big runs on multiple plays.
Perhaps the most surprising component of the running game was Moe Neal. Neal made some noise with several long runs and a touchdown to his credit during the game. Elusive and fast, Neal reminds his teammates of another dynamic Syracuse player.
“He reminds me a little of Erv [Phillps],” Strickland said of the freshman. “If you put him in the backfield he’ll wiggle through small holes. He’ll be someone to watch.”
Defensive lineman Chris Slayton agrees with Strickland’s assessment of Neal’s potential. “He reminds me of Ervin in his freshman year,” Slayton said. “He’s going to help us out a lot.”
Although the freshman may have to wait his turn to breakout for the Orange, after Saturday’s performance, Orange fans should be ready to yell, “Welcome to Moe!”
Don’t Sleep on the Defense
The offense might have been the highlight to Saturday’s scrimmage, but the defense also showed some really promise as it continues to also learn a new system. Forcing several fumbles and snagging one interception, the Orange defense made the most of its outing against an offense that does not allow for many substitutions.
Turnovers were not the only defensive highlights from the scrimmage. Penetrating the offensive line, the defense racked up several stops in the backfield and “sacks” (contact with) the quarterback. Slayton recorded a particularly hard hit on Fredericks, dropping the running back for a loss.
“That kid is just a bull,” Strickland said of Slayton. “Him hitting you is just going into a brick wall.”
Hard hits aside, look for the conditioning of this defensive unit to improve as the season arrives. Practicing against Babers’s faced paced offense, the defense will have an opportunity to physically prepare themselves to face more conventional offenses when the season arrives.
“We’re not going to be as tired as we were today,” Slayton said when asked about the effects of the up-tempo offense on the defensive side of the ball. “In the beginning of the spring, we were tired. Towards the end, we started getting in better condition.”