Item: It wasn’t exactly the debut Scott Shafer was looking for as he made his coaching return as the defensive coordinator for Middle Tennessee State last weekend after a one season sabbatical. The MTSU defense gave up touchdown drives of 80, 76, and 75 yards in its one-sided 28-6 loss to the SEC’s Vanderbilt Commodores, at home none-the-less. Now the former SU coach (2013-15) returns to the Dome Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET / ACCN+) to face his successor Dino Barbers, who has to be concerned about the continued absence of a running game (155 yards against FCS defense Central Connecticut State / 3.8 yards per carry) to balance his “faster” offense.
The last time a former Syracuse head coach came back as a member of the opposition was Paul Pasqualoni’s return as Connecticut head coach in 2012, a 40-10 SU win under Doug Marrone in his last season guiding the Orange.
Now it’s the coach that followed Marrone in line for a homecoming of sorts this weekend, with Shafer preparing to face many of the players he either helped recruit or coach as recently as just two seasons ago.
“For me, it’s more of a step-out-of-the-way moment,” Babers explained Monday when asked about coaching his current ‘Cuse players who were recruited by Shafer and his former staff.
“This is a proud moment because these guys are in the room because Scott Shafer recruited them, or he coached them,” Babers continued. “Now it’s an opportunity for them to go back and say ‘you know what, you recruited me, thought I could do this, how (do) you like me now?’”
There will likely be some pregame sentiment among the Orange upperclassmen with their former coach’s return, and plenty of overall emotion at halftime Saturday as the undefeated 1987 team is saluted on its 30th anniversary while mourning the August passing of its leader Dick MacPherson, but there’s still the job of beating a bowl team from a year ago to get a step closer for SU to be a bowl eligible this season.
While freshman running back Markenzy Pierre opened some eyes in the opener, finishing only behind Eric Dungey with 47 yards on the ground, the challenge remains to compliment Dungey’s passing game (coaching staff’s highest graded opening game by a quarterback versus CCSU in Babers five years as a head coach), and to stop a Blue Raiders offense that figures to test the SU secondary.
“That’s a good offense, Babers said in his scouting report of MTSU. “They’re going to come in here, and I’d be very surprised if they don’t score some points and move the football because they are efficient. That quarterback (junior Brent Stockstill) is really, really good.”
The college coaching fraternity is very tight-knit and loyal, except when it’s time to match points with 60 minutes on the clock. Babers has been around long enough in his 30 plus years of coaching with 14 programs to know how best to prepare for an opposing coach that has familiarity with his own team’s personnel.
“I think it’s going to be a heck of a chess match,” Babers said analyzing his X’s and O’s battle with his predecessor as professor of Syracuse football.
“It’s going to be a great exam. It’s going to be tough you don’t know what the questions are on it. The best thing I can suggest for me to do is get a good night’s sleep, show up with a clear mind so I can adjust and improvise.”