On Saturday night, Dino Babers was just two minutes and 29 seconds of game clock away from setting himself up for a perfect week. Syracuse was up 29-9 against the Ohio Bobcats in a well-played season opener. Running back Sean Tucker went bananas for a career day, while hotshot true freshman cornerback Duce Chestnut played a fantastic career debut. Not a lot of questions to be left on the table. Cut and dry SU’s first road win in nearly two calendar years.
Then Babers inserted quarterback Garrett Shrader into the game, and the winds of controversy are blowing through Syracuse like a wintery Lake Ontario gust. Again.
Leading into the Fall, the biggest summer storyline for SU was the quarterback position battle between returning starter Tommy DeVito and transfer Garrett Shrader. It’s old hat for a fanbase used to an unstable program that always seems to be looking for a QB (R.J. Anderson vs. Troy Nunes 20 years later, anyone?) Whether there was much to make of this summer’s battle, or if it was just a symptom of a team regaining its sea legs following a 1-10 year, is up for debate. However, Babers has only encouraged questioning of the situation through his own actions.
Before the 2021 season began, Dino joked around that he didn’t “want to decide who the quarterback was going to be”, deferred the problem by announcing a “two-quarterback system” in late August and, perhaps caught up in the excitement during his postgame interview on Saturday, committed to putting Shrader “in the next game [against Rutgers].”
Is Dino serious about that? It’s up for you to decide. There’s been opposing speculation both among Syracuse media and here at the Fizz about what exactly Babers’ two-QB system will entail, but it’s obvious Dino knows how to keep the media and fans in the dark. He’s definitely conscious of his answers, as he showed this week when he coyly deflected questions about Chris Elmore on Monday.
Even if Shrader hadn’t gotten into Saturday’s game during garbage time – to hand off three times, run an option for eight yards and complete a single pass for eight more – Tommy DeVito’s play didn’t exactly stave off the question marks. To be sure, DeVito did not play badly: the redshirt junior finished 11-17 for 92 yards and a rushing touchdown with just one sack, more than enough in front of a red-hot Sean Tucker. However, DeVito missed on a few throws in the redzone and was off by inches on a would-be deep shot touchdown to Taj Harris. It would have been a solid but certainly unspectacular season debut, but the presence of Shrader toward the game’s end only invited more speculation.
Was Shrader getting some game action ahead of more playing time against Rutgers? Will DeVito throw more while Shrader becomes the running quarterback? The only person who knows the answers is Dino Babers, whose own choices have dragged out a complex situation into the regular season.