As the calendar flips to August (bonkers, right?), football season draws closer by the minute. 33 days from now, fans will pack the Dome for Syracuse’s opener against Louisville. Dino Babers and company will look to get the Orange back to a bowl game for the first time since 2018, but it won’t come easy with the gauntlet of a schedule ahead. But there are a few things SU can do to better their chances of playing a game in December. Here are three steps Babers and his staff can take to bring success to the 315 this fall.
1. An Improved Passing Offense
Plain and simple, this team was very one-dimensional offensively last year. Syracuse leaned on the run far too much, and it yielded a dead-last finish in the ACC in passing yards. If SU brings out the same offensive schemes as last year, games will be over rather quickly. Whether it comes from Garrett Shrader, Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, or another candidate, the Orange must have more production through the air this season. There is reason for optimism that Shrader will improve in year 2 under center, but if he doesn’t and none of the gunslingers behind him pan out the way new offensive coordinator Robert Anae wants them to, things will not bode well at all. Stepping it up in the passing game would go a long way towards taking pressure off Sean Tucker as well as make game planning much more difficult for SU’s opponents.
2. Competent Special Teams
This unit wasn’t exactly fun to watch last season. Whether it be Andre Szmyt doinking 20-yard kicks or punts not traveling very far (SU was last in the ACC in yards per punt), special teams were quite the adventure last season. But don’t think this unit didn’t have potential last year. Szmyt won the Groza Award (best kicker in college football) back in 2018 and Ian Hawkins averaged over 40 yards per punt in Syracuse’s final two games of the season after taking the starting job late. That begs the question of who will start at punter between Hawkins and James Williams, the latter of whom started eight of the first nine games last season. Consistency out of either one of these guys and punting the football won’t be the end of the world. Add that to a potentially reinvigorated Szmyt, this unit has an entirely different outlook.
3. Forcing More Turnovers
The Orange only mustered seven takeaways last season whereas their opponents had 12 against them. That total of seven is bad enough on its own, but when you add that to the nearly 1:2 takeaway to giveaway ratio, it looks even worse. SU intercepted four passes and only recovered three fumbles in 12 games. Pitt, the conference champion, intercepted 16 passes in the regular season alone. It certainly isn’t fair to expect that big of a jump, but at the same time, seven total takeaways is no path to success against the tough foes ahead. A boost in that number will give Syracuse a fighting chance against its extremely difficult schedule.
There is the key to victory formation. Better QB play, better special teams play, and an improved ability to force turnovers is how SU gives itself a shot at a bowl game. If the Orange can do these things as well as build on the positives from a season ago, Syracuse could very well play a game in December.