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SU’s Impressive Start Should Vindicate Dino Babers

Credit Lucy Messineo-Witt/Daily Orange

A few quick Google searches on how to cook crow don’t yield much. YouTube says to pan fry it, while other sites say it’s better raw than it is cooked. No thanks. I’ll leave that to Lithuanians, who apparently love the stuff. I learn something every day.

Such research is all part of the penance that I, like many other Syracuse fans, am doing this week with regards to our criticism of Syracuse football and head coach Dino Babers. We’ve all written our barbs and our sarcasm-soaked checks. Now it’s time to cash them, and crow should be on the menu for all of us. Dig in.

SU’s 24-21 victory over Liberty last Friday night was a true shocker. Only one of our Fizz writers picked Syracuse to win, and not a single writer on this site explicitly noted the Liberty game as one Syracuse could even hope to win in our preseason article. Vegas agreed, tabbing the Orange as touchdown underdogs at home. The acerbic critics among us lamented, calling it an ultimate showing of how far Syracuse’s program has fallen. 

Instead, what occurred Friday was vindication for a coaching staff that has gone through the wringer of a 1-10 season and endless second-guessing. Syracuse didn’t beat Liberty by luck. The choices made by Dino Babers are the reason Syracuse is 3-1 instead of 2-2.

Take Babers’ decision to roll the dice and give Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader his first start of the year under center, unseating Tommy DeVito as the de facto starter for the first time since the 2019 season began. Shrader wasn’t thrilling through the air – 6 of 15 passing for 77 yards and no touchdowns  – but his play on the ground opened up the Syracuse offense for Sean Tucker. Observers noted his similarities to former sparkplug Eric Dungey and the calmness with which SU pounded Liberty with its run-heavy gameplan. In the end, Shrader’s final play might’ve been his best: an eight-yard read option scamper with 25 seconds left that got Syracuse closer for Andre Szmyt’s game-winner without risking a turnover. Shrader’s performance earned him the starting job for at least one more week.

The other reason that last play worked was the continued domination from running back Sean Tucker. It’s easy to forget that Tucker began 2020 fourth on the running back depth chart behind Abdul Adams, Jarveon Howard, and Jawhar Jordan. Adams and Howard opted out before the season and Jordan was brutal through SU’s first two games, paving the way for Babers to insert Tucker, who Wally Pipp’d them all. A year later, Tucker has propelled himself all the way into (unofficial) Heisman conversations following his 32 carry, 169-yard outing on Friday.

Tucker’s rise has been rivaled on defense with defensive end Cody Roscoe’s emergence. Roscoe came over in 2020 as a transfer from FCS program McNeese State and notched just two sacks last year in 11 games as he adjusted to ACC competition, but had just as many last Friday to bring his sack total this year to 5.5. That’s tied for second-most in the entire FBS. Defensive teammate Marlowe Wax has five sacks himself, and both guys helped stymie a Liberty offense led by a prospective first-round NFL talent in QB Malik Willis. 

Syracuse has a suddenly winnable game this week against perhaps the worst Florida State team since the Ford administration. Knock off the Seminoles, and Dino Babers’ team is suddenly a once-unthinkable 4-1. It wouldn’t be possible without Babers’ decisions, from starting Shrader to playing Tucker to assessing Cody Roscoe’s talent as a transfer. If you’re a Syracuse fan, put the vinegar away for this week. It’s time to give Dino his due for quietly assembling a team the Salt City can get excited about again.

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The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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