For better or worse, the Big 12 is known for high-flying offense and not a whole lot of defense. Last season, 4 of the top 13 passing offenses in college football resided in the Big 12, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia. No other conference had more than two teams in that group.
Not far behind that group was Syracuse, finishing eighteenth in the nation in passing yards per game. The Orange also fits the other side of that coin as well, finishing with the 106th defense out of 130 teams in Division I. The defense also surrendered 32.2 points per game, the worst mark in the ACC.
After finishing 4-8 last season and showing no signs of improvement on the defensive side of the ball in 2018, Syracuse desperately needs to find a way to change the team’s identity. Between the lack of a consistent ground game and the inability to slow down opposing offenses, Dino Babers is creating a team set to compete in the Big 12, not the ACC.
None of this is meant to knock the Big 12. Oklahoma was one of the best teams in the country last year after all. However, with the majority of Syracuse’s schedule consisting of conference opponents, preparing for that would seem to make a lot of sense.
In conference play last season, Syracuse was abysmal on defense. It allowed a whopping 37.1 points per game to go with 500.3 yards of total offense, both dead last in the ACC. The Orange also failed to intercept a single pass in eight ACC games, while throwing 13 of its own.
Babers’ defense also permitted opponents to pick up 7.1 yards per play, 6.2 yards per rush and a 64.7 completion percentage, all ranking last in the conference. The defense also finished tied for last in the conference with just 12 sacks in eight games.
As Syracuse gears up for conference play against Florida State, it does not appear as if the Orange has solved those issues. The result against Wagner is nice, but does not offer much insight into the play off the team against better competition.
The opening game against Western Michigan was much more telling as the Orange defense crumbled once again. It allowed 621 yards of offense, the fourth straight game Syracuse gave up over 600 yards dating back to last season, and 42 points. It also picked up just a lone sack in the game. That was to team that only picked up 390 yards per game last season competing in the MAC with a receiver drafted in the top 5 of the NFL draft.
There have been flashes of greatness. The easiest one to point was last season’s upset of then-No. 2 Clemson, as the Orange held the Tigers high-powered offense to just 317 yards on a 5.6 yards per play average. Inconsistency, or often times just consistently poor play, from the defense has been Babers’ downfall since arriving at Syracuse.
It takes time to turnover a defense but it already looks like very little improvement has come on that side of the ball in the early stages of year three.
However, Syracuse is presented an excellent opportunity to rewrite the script on Saturday hosting Florida State. The Orange has bested the Seminoles just once in its history. Floyd Little was the running back for Syracuse on that day in 1966. SU is long overdue for a win over FSU, and with the ‘Noles struggling out of the gate, an offensive outburst could net Syracuse a much-needed victory.
It will really just depend on which Syracuse team shows up. The version built to play in the Big 12 or the one capable of clashing with the kings of the ACC.