This season has not gone the way most expected for Syracuse football. After years of explosive offensive play under Eric Dungey, the offense has stumbled with a first-time starter at quarterback and an overmatched offensive line. SU started the year ranked with legitimate expectations of reaching a major bowl game. Instead, Syracuse now finds itself fighting to be bowl eligible. It is time for the Orange to change its team identity.
Despite the unsavory 3-4 record, including 0-3 in the conference, Syracuse’s defensive play improved this season, at least statistically. In 2018, the Orange surrendered 27.8 points per game and 426 yards of total offense. This year, those totals are down to 26.1 and 418 respectively. Those jumps don’t seem too significant, but still point to some better overall play.
Beyond that, the defense is still on par with yards per play at 5.7 compared to 5.8 the year before. Even the pass completion rate has fallen from 55.1 percent to 52.2 percent. I know I am just throwing a bunch of numbers out there, but what I am trying to say is this defense is still pretty good.
The struggles on the offensive side of the ball are well documented. The identity since Dino Babers arrived has been playing fast and throwing the ball a lot. But no quarterback in the country has been sacked as much as Tommy Devito.
After putting up 40.2 points per game, 11th most in the country, the Orange is managing a pedestrian 24.7 points per contest this year. Dropping from 11th to 94th is a drastic fall off, which helps explains why Syracuse is losing games. Defensive improvements were nominal, nowhere near enough to account for the massive offensive deficiencies.
I know Dino Babers has branded this team as “Orange is the new fast,” but it’s time to mix things up and slow it down. That identity has Syracuse ranked 70th in time of possession this year at 29:47 on average per game. For a frame of reference, Wisconsin leads the nation at 38:11 per game. Throwing the ball all over the yard and exposing Devito to more harm is not the way to get this group back on track. It’s time to run the ball.
Syracuse has a trio of solid running backs in Moe Neal, Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard, yet as a team it ranks 118th in rush yards per game. Part of that is due to the terrible efficiency running the ball. At just 2.9 yards per attempt, the Orange owns the eighth-worst average in college football.
These numbers are skewed because the NCAA counts sacks as negative rushing yardage and Devito is leading the nation in sacks taken. Simply stated, Babers needs to commit establishing the ground game and taking some pressure off Devito. He is clearly not ready to carry this team with his arm and we’ve already seen the toll all those hits are taking on him. He had to exit the last game against Pittsburgh after the Panthers sacked Orange passers nine times.
This doesn’t mean Syracuse should go away from stretching the field with Trishton Jackson or Sean Riley. Devito’s future might just depend on finding a running game. While last year’s offense was incredible dynamic downfield, SU actually ran the ball for over 200 yards per game. It set up plenty of opportunities to call long pass plays downfield on second down without having to worry about ending up in third and long situations.
There is still plenty of room for creativity still with a run-based offense for Babers. We don’t need to revert to three yards and a cloud of dust. I still expect him to use his brilliant offensive mind to toy with defenses the same way he always has. There just needs to a greater focus on getting ground game rolling. It will keep the defense off the field and the quarterback upright.