From the moment Syracuse hired Dino Babers all the talk surrounding the team has been about his unique offensive tempo. Last year it felt like every billboard, talk show, blog and media outlet in and around the Syracuse area mentioned that Orange is the new fast like five times a day. It was everywhere and for all intents and purposes SU’s offense was much faster and sharper in 2016. After a solid maiden voyage, SU’s 2017 slogan stuck with the same theme but became just one word: faster. Implying that Babers was going to make good on his promise and make his offense even faster and smoother in his second year. Instead, Eric Dungey and company have actually gotten slower and it’s largely been improvement from SU’s defense that has made them a stronger overall team. In order for SU to really make a leap in Babers second year Syracuse needs to get back to its roots. The Orange needs to go from the new methodical back to being the new fast.
Now, I’m not saying the offense has been horrible by any stretch of the imagination. Actually, the past three weeks have been much better. After a head-scratching performance against Middle Tennessee State, SU has shown drastic improvement. Steve Ishmael has turned into a young Randy Moss, Erv Philips showed he is likely back to his old self on Saturday and SU has gone punch for punch with two strong teams on the road. But these good performances have only produced lousy moral victories. In the grand scheme of things, the past two weeks were merely missed opportunities. The LSU and NC State games looked like the same movie that just happened to be at different venues. Dungey tossed a costly pick in the opening credits, SU got down early, fought back and fell short after Cole Murphy’s putrid “specialty kick” (or whatever you want to call it) during the climax helped the home team seal it. So how can Syracuse get over the hump and change the script?
In order to start seeing results in the standings from these strong performances, SU needs to start clicking on offense from the opening whistle. And that doesn’t mean it’s just a matter of Dungey not throwing an interception right off the bat. While those certainly don’t help, SU is dealing with a bigger issue. The offense isn’t coming out of the gates fast and sharp. The Orange has seemed tentative and deliberate for the first 30 minutes of the last three games. It’s the opposite of the style Babers has become known for. It’s the opposite of the style that Syracuse used to beat Virginia Tech last year.
Let’s face it, Syracuse can’t beat an NC State or a Florida State right now based on pure talent and talent alone. However, the Orange can minimize a strong defense by tiring them out and introducing an element they are not used to playing against. The speed of SU’s offense is what makes it unique, fun and challenging to stop. Anyone who has watched this team can tell you that outside of a couple trick plays here in there, SU has actually been pretty simplistic on the play calling front. The bubble screens to the outside and short passes aren’t making top ACC defenses sweat, but a quicker offense could. (literally and figuratively)
In the second halves of the past three games, Syracuse has been picking up the tempo. SU seems to be more carefree and Babers’ offense is coming out of the halftime locker rooms with urgency that simply isn’t there in the first half. I mean even in SU’s thrashing over Central Michigan, the offense was sluggish out of the gates and didn’t get going until the second half. Going forward, Syracuse needs to play a full 60 minutes of Babers-esque offense. SU needs to put the likes of FSU and Louisville on the ropes from the beginning. The opposition must be forced to defend a style they aren’t familiar with. Dino Babers teams have never been special because of talent; they are special because of style. Syracuse needs to remember that and find out a way to get back to doing what it does best.