The biggest downfall last season was scheming. Blame injuries to players like Tommy Devito and Andre Cisco or the opt-outs of Jarveon Howard and Abdul Adams all you want, last year’s group failed to adjust to its opponents.
In SU’s first two games against a pair of ranked teams, the Orange fell flat.
Number 18 UNC pummeled Syracuse on the ground, racking up over 150 yards, a majority picked up by Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. That’s bad game-planning by SU, with the knowledge that the Tar Heels boast a top 15 rushing offense in the country. The Orange did well thwarting the highly-touted ability of quarterback Sam Howell through three quarters, but let him throw with ease in the fourth.
Pittsburgh, slotted at 25th in the rankings, entered the game with one of the best defensive lines in the conference. The assumption would be that Dino Babers and the rest of the coaching staff would work on scramble and roll-out packages. Instead, Devito was tossed around like a rag doll, leading to Rex Culpepper’s insertion, in which Pitt proceeded to do much of the same to him. This resulted in seven sacks for 40 yards behind an abysmal offensive line performance.
Those two games are on the coaching staff. UNC and Pitt came into the games with predictable strengths, and SU played right into them.
After a dominant win over Georgia Tech, in which freshman Sean Tucker burst out on the scene with 112 yards on the ground, the Orange backed it up with a failed effort against Duke. The Blue Devils were 0-4 on the year and gave up over 194 rushing yards per game through four contests. QB Chase Brice was the only positive for Duke until this point with over 200 yards passing in each game.
SU ended up surrendering over 350 rush yards to a RB tandem that hadn’t topped 150 combined, while also allowing Brice to hit the 270-yard mark. This, all while the offense struggled mightily. Syracuse ran the ball only 13 times to designated running backs against an awful ground-game defense, with the blame falling yet again on the coaching staff’s inability to adapt to opponents weaknesses.
This continued throughout the season where SU let Liberty run the ball on 75% of offensive plays, when the Flames have two of the top 30 rushers in the country but a lackluster passing game. Or a bout with Clemson that Syracuse kept tight, but gave the ball away four times to a top 5 turnover-forcing defense in the nation.
The list goes on and on and it all traces back to Syracuse and its innate ability to fold to other team’s evident strengths instead of counteracting them. Wake Forest had one pass threat in Jaquarii Roberson, but SU didn’t implement double-teams or specific packages to stop him, rather he recorded his third seven catch game of the season and 130 yards.
The tides turning to 2021 could lead to a new Babers philosophy, a healthier squad and more talent, but if you can’t scheme, you’re not going to win football games. Let’s see if that translates to the film room, weight room and practice field before each game next year.