Even after a comprehensive win over Western Michigan, Syracuse is still without an identity. That’s not a good thing. Take last year’s Orange: They were a team that rarely turned the ball over, took the ball away, dominated the kicking game, pressured the opposing quarterback and relied on a tough athletic quarterback on offense. Their strengths were consistent and unrelenting, their weaknesses were unsurprising and overcomeable.
Dino Babers came into this season talking up the defense and tempering expectations for the offense. After a week 1 shutout against Liberty, it seemed he hit the nail on the head. Are the Orange destined for a season of low-scoring defensive wars? Since Liberty, that theory has been debunked. SU has allowed 63, 41 and 33 against Maryland, Clemson and Western Michigan. Granted, the defense was impressive against the Tigers and banged up in the secondary against the Broncos.
Still, is an up-tempo team that plays in a Dome going to ever going be a defensive team? Time-of-possession disparity wears out the defense when the Syracuse offense stalls. And Dome conditions breed offense. Think about the Saints, Falcons, Colts and Cowboys. All of those NFL teams play at least some home football indoors and none design their roster for defense. It’s hard to see SU football playing like a physical defensive BigTen school this season, or ever.
Syracuse needs to put points up if it’s going to win games. So let’s ask the same question: what is the offensive identity of this team? With a first-year starting quarterback and an inexperienced offensive line, it was easy to see this team as run-heavy offense. Dino Babers had three capeable backs to mix in with Moe Neal, Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard. Although sacks count towards rushing stats in NCAA (stupidly), SU is getting out rushed 772 to 535. The opposition is averaging two more yards per carry (5.4).
Meanwhile, the passing game might’ve turned the corner against Western Michigan. DeVito threw for four TDs, no interceptions and 287 yards. Trishton Jackson finally put a big game on the receiver’s collective resume- 141 yards and two rather electrifying touchdowns. But before then, the offense was seen as the problem. Sacks have plagued SU. It’s not just the offensive line, it’s also up to the quarterback to get the ball away in a timely manner and the running backs to pick up blitzes. DeVito’s decision making has also been suspect. He threw four interceptions in the first three games, and benefited from a dropped pick against the Broncos. Even if DeVito matures quickly, the O-line is probably not good enough to sustain a super successful passing attack.
Syracuse has plenty of talent. But so far, it’s unclear exactly what this team is. Holy Cross might be a good opportunity to begin solidifying an identity, because the Crusaders shouldn’t put up much resistance.