Orange Watch: Time to rein in expectations for Syracuse as Clemson comes calling

Syracuse football Carrier Dome
Syracuse football from the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Item: If there are two things more useless in gauging how football teams will fare from one season to the next, it is NFL preseason games, and college football preseason rankings. They both mean absolutely nothing in regards to the final week-in, week-out records of a team in its current campaign.

When everything goes wrong in the true FBS opener (Liberty is still FBS in name only) against a Power 5 team to leave a stunning, bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, it’s seemingly safe to predict that this Syracuse football team will be ready to play when it next faces the best team in the land.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact feeling, but we know the moment. It was following the first drive for SU at Maryland last weekend that ended with a three and out.

The Terrapins promptly marched 67 yards in just five plays in 97 seconds, and 7-0 was about to snowball over the next three hours plus to 63-20. It was like, ‘whoa, that was too easy against the defense.’

As would be proven continuously throughout the afternoon, the defense, which head coach Dino Babers has repeatedly said, along with the kicking game, will define the season, could not figure out what was coming down-by-down , and when the unit zeroed in on red jerseys, the contemporary-to-the-game missed tackle syndrome struck again to produce gobs of extra yardage.

» Related: Flaherty says Syracuse football can ‘win every single game remaining’

Growing pains with quarterback Tommy DeVito still learning the nuances of the speed and flow of the game, especially with opposing defensive coaches scheming specifically against him is one element to digest, but to see the defense being shredded with self-inflicted mistakes (kicking specialist Andre Szmyt missing a PAT?) is another.

“When you really look at the tackling part, I mean, there was a lot of missed tackles,” Babers lamented after the Terps defeat.

“When you have missed tackles on a defense whether its linebackers, back end, D-linemen, you’re going to get guys extending plays,” he continued. “Look at the third downs (Maryland was 11-15 converting). I mean that’s an amazing statistic no matter who you’re playing. And, that’s not indicative of our defense.”

That might be hard to tell again Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET / ABC) in the Dome with Clemson’s

Trevor Lawrence at the helm of the top-ranked Tigers, yet the ‘Cuse is going to show up in all-orange uniforms on an evening to honor Tim Green with the retiring of his No. 72 atop the building, determined to prove they have turned the page.

“The most important thing going into the week is (we) have to know what to do to prepare better,” wide receiver Trishton Jackson said following a breakout 7-for-157, two touchdowns performance versus Maryland. “We have to be ready for practice (this week) and definitely be ready by Saturday. I think the mental state we have right now we’ll be ready for Saturday.”

At 1-1, Syracuse has to win its home games in a competitive ACC to stay on a more prestigious bowl game track, but has its toughest of all Dome games first, a rare visit (four times in 40 Dome seasons) of the sitting No. 1 team to campus.

“It’s like ‘The Sopranos’ you bring your family back into the home,” film-TV buff Babers explained when asked how he would regroup his team on short notice. “You tell your family exactly what they need to do. And then you let them back outside.

Or, in this case, inside what should truly be the ‘Loud House’ (with Dwight Freeney in attendance to boot).

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Brad Bierman
About Brad Bierman 600 Articles
Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.