Orange Watch: Syracuse football needs to light up the scoreboard

Syracuse Football Pitt
Syracuse football plays Pitt. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Item: After one frustrating week for Orange Nation knowing an upset over a Top 25 team on the road was there for the taking, the unsuccessful execution offensively has dulled optimism that the results will change quickly.

The old coaching adage in football is, “offense sells tickets, but defense wins games.”

In the case of the 2020 Orange football team so far after one game at North Carolina, the ongoing national pandemic meant there were no tickets to sell to the visiting crowd at Chapel Hill’s Kenan Stadium because of that state’s health regulations prohibiting the gathering of large outdoor crowds (UNC issued 25 tickets to senior players for use). But would it have mattered?

While the Syracuse (0-1) defense did its best to put the team in a position to win with three turnovers (one on a fumbled punt) and giving up only 10 points through three quarters, the offense (along with a special teams unit missed field goal) could not match that defensive effort finishing with only six points and 202 yards of total production.

Consider that now in Dino Babers fifth season with a 23-27 record, we think back to the initial sermon-like promise at his introductory press conference that we would see a lightning quick offensive pace that we had never seen before in these parts. Remember “Orange is the new fast?”

With Babers strategy of playing offense fast, and even faster, to keep the other team off- balance, his teams have scored 30 or more points 48% of the time – 24 of 50 games, a better average than his four Syracuse predecessors since 2000 (Paul Pasqualoni-coached teams scored 30 points or better 44% of the time from 2000-2004 in the Big East), but overall have only averaged that number in one of his four completed ACC seasons.

On the other hand, the Orange defense has given up an average of 30 or more points to the opposition in three of those four seasons, with the 2020 opening result not a good sign of the balance needed on both sides of the ball to win in a Power 5 conference. Examine the (rounded off) numbers:

  • 2016: 26 points per game offense / 39 points per game to opponents
  • 2017: 27 points per game offense / 30 points per game to opponents
  • 2018: 40 points per game offense / 27 points per game to opponents
  • 2019: 28 points per game offense / 31 points per game to opponents
  • 2020: 6-points in one game / 31 points in one game to opponent

» Related: 2021 wide receiver Oronde Gadsden II commits to Syracuse football

Next up is a Pittsburgh (1-0) team Saturday at Heinz Field (12:00 p.m. ET /ACC Network) that has won three of the four meetings against Babers-coached teams, and throwing out that delirious 76-61 defeat to end the 2016 season, the Panthers have held SU under 30 points in two of the other three games, one a ‘Cuse 27-24 victory.

Following the opening North Carolina loss, an upbeat Babers remained philosophic and simplistic about what it will take from his offensive players to score more points.

“We have to make plays. When you’ve got a guy open you’ve got to make the throw. When the throw is made, you have to make the catch,” Babers said in a rueful tone.

“When you get an opportunity to make a big play, then you have to finish the play,” he continued. “When you’re on the edge as we are (little margin for error), you need those plays to happen, you need those throws to happen. That’s how we get our big momentum.”

An adjusted team effort on the road Saturday against a Pitt program that’s been a pest, would certainly give Syracuse some momentum heading into the Dome opener the following week against rising Georgia Tech.

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Brad Bierman
About Brad Bierman 679 Articles
Now in his sixth 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.