The annual spring football game is nothing more than a glorified exhibition to tide over ravenous fans who can’t wait another four months for the sport to return for real. It’s dangerous to extract any sort of “takeaways” from the scrimmage, which pits a team’s starters against its backups. When teammates do battle, the hits are few and far between, the competition is far from fierce, and the action resembles regular-season football about as well as that Cristiano Ronaldo statue represented Cristiano Ronaldo.
Still, the spring game is the most realistic, useful glimpse of real football we’ll get until the regular season begins. If a player erupts in the exhibition, we know it’s worth keeping tabs on him (the same applies to spring scrimmages).
With all that being said, let’s take a look at the most notable storyline from Syracuse’s spring game Saturday morning. Team Orange, which featured SU’s first-stringers, knocked off Team White, composed of guys from the second line of the depth chart, 14-0, in the Carrier Dome.
Playing against the second-stringers from a defense that allowed 38.6 points per game last season — good for 120th out of 128 Division I teams — the vaunted Syracuse offense scored seven points (the other half came from an Antwan Cordy pick-six). The Orange didn’t even think about pulling the tarp off the car and taking the full playbook for a spin.
Eric Dungey completed 8-of-14 passes for 99 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The two sides combined to rush 30 times for a whopping total of 28 yards. Redshirt freshman tight end Jesse Conners was the game’s “star” pass-catcher, leading the way with three catches for 53 yards.
Perhaps it was a fluke in an exhibition played early on a Saturday morning nearly half a year before these games start to matter. Or perhaps we’ve overestimated the gap between the SU offense and the SU defense. Sure, the Orange was one of five teams to allow more than 500 yards per game last season, and was above-average in terms of total offense (440.8 yards per game, tied with Auburn for the 42nd-best mark in the country).
But those numbers are both inflated by Syracuse’s breakneck offensive pace under Babers. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that in 2016, the offense was only slightly above average and the defense was only slightly below average. The Orange’s S&P+ rating (a pace-adjusted advanced metric that provides a better idea of how well a unit performed in a given season than raw yards or points) was 54th on offense and 89th on defense. SU was better at scoring points than it was at preventing them, but this wasn’t an offense-first, second, and third team.