The Dino Babers era is underway and the Orange sit at 1-0 after beating Colgate 33-7 last Saturday. The offense was faster than anyone could have imagined, but Babers claims this is the slowest we will ever see it. Eric Dungey set career highs in yards, completions, attempts and completion percentage. Amba Etta-Tawo and Erv Phillips both flirted with SU receiving records in the outburst and the defense put a clamp on Colgate’s offense after the first drive, shutting out the Raiders and allowing just 53 yards in the final three and a half quarters. The one component that is missing from this list of an otherwise well-rounded performance is the running game.
Syracuse racked up just 117 yards on the ground, 49 of which came on a touchdown run by Moe Neal, against a team that allowed 150 rushing yards per game last season against much weaker opponents. Take away Neal’s long march to the end zone and SU averaged just two yards per carry.
With an offense that clearly puts an emphasis on passing (SU threw on five of its last six plays, many of which came with under two minutes left in the game and a 26 point lead), there were not nearly as many carries to go around. Couple in the fact that Neal emerged onto the scene on his first run of his career, there were too many mouths to feed in the Orange’s backfield. Syracuse went with a three-headed attack throughout the game featuring starter Dontae Strickland, Jordan Fredericks and Neal. Throw in Dungey taking a team-leading 10 carries on the night and there simply wasn’t enough ground time for anyone to find their rhythm.
The running struggles also contributed to the Orange’s red zone deficiencies. SU was forced into kicking three field goals from inside the 20 yardline, largely because of the team’s inability to run the ball. On rushing plays leading up to field goals, Syracuse never eclipsed four yards. The team also rushed for no gain or negative yardage on four of the six plays before a field goal.
Overall, Babers debut was everything Orange fans could have asked for and more. But if SU wants to win the swing games that could put itself in bowl contention, the running game needs to balance out the offensive attack.