Orange Watch: Syracuse football still on target to reach a bowl game

Sep 18, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange running back Sean Tucker (34) runs with the ball into the end zone for a touchdown past Albany Great Danes linebacker Bobby Ambush (43) during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Item: The latest ACC road loss this past weekend at Florida State brought out plenty of emotions from Orange Nation. Despite the disappointing defeat, it’s an unpredictable conference season in which the power has tilted to surprising Wake Forest, N.C. State, and Pittsburgh. Even sitting at 3-2/0-1, the Orange have progressed rather than regressed, and with four home games out of the seven left to be played, there’s still a shot to become bowl eligible.

“You are what your record says you are.” – Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells.

Winning on the road in the ACC has been a chronic problem for Syracuse football since it joined the league in 2013. The Orange are just 7-28 away from the Dome following the Florida State loss, having won essentially twice as many (13) conference games at home over that span.

The problem is without winning consistently fans will not come out in force, leaving the building to be occupied solely by the diehard season ticket base. Following a crowd-less 2020 campaign, there’s been an additional impressive turnout so far this year by the students with both core groups making a lot of noise under the new permanent roof.

It’s a Dome field advantage that has to be exploited to its fullest.

Next up for SU is Saturday’s first of three critical October home game against the ACC’s highest ranked team, surprising No. 19/20 Wake Forest (3:30 p.m. ET / ESPN2), a one-week window to turn the bitterness of losing on a last second field goal to the sweetness of knocking off a ranked team in the place Dino Babers passionately refers to as “our house.”

“We’re going to be able to compete, we’re going to be able to battle,” Babers waxed philosophically after falling to Florida State. “Some teams are going to be better, there’s nothing you can do about that. But we’re going to be able to put an effort forward. This team has got some stuff to it.”

Despite the negatives; problems with clock management, the inability to score touchdowns within 20-yards of the end zone, the lack of a lightning-fast vertical passing game further diluted by the transfer plans of leading receiver Taj Harris last weekend, and the unaccustomed hiccups on special teams, there is the brightness of a season-long stout defensive effort and the building confidence of Garrett Shrader now the unquestioned quarterback running the show.

“We can’t go anywhere but up,” blocking back “Rhino” Elmore, the team’s elderly statesman, said last weekend after returning from missing the first four games for unspecified reasons. “Now that we’re in conference play there’s no easy (games) that look like they’re wins. We’ve got basically the number one team in the ACC, Wake Forest, coming to our house. Games are going to get harder from here on out, we’ve got to get better.”

» Related: A look at two Syracuse nominees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Wake Forest (5-0/3-0) has been impressive under Dave Clawson who’s been on the job in Winston-Salem two seasons longer than Babers at Syracuse. The two share a longtime friendship and the exact same Bowling Green-to-ACC coaching progression.

“I think the biggest thing between his team and other teams (this year) is he’s got super seniors all over the board,” Babers explained Monday. “(It’s a) veteran group that’s been running the exact same system for a long, long period of time. I’m happy for their success. He’s one of the good guys in college football. (But) I hope they don’t have a lot of success coming up here to Syracuse.”

It’s the third straight year the Demon Deacons have played in the Dome, and a ripe opportunity for Syracuse to replicate the performances in home upset wins over ranked teams Virginia Tech (2016) and Clemson (2017) during Babers’ first two seasons.

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About Brad Bierman 848 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.