Win or lose, Dino Babers always has interesting things to say to the media. He’s talked plenty about Vanilla Ice, which of his players have “owies”, and spent great length this week talking about the perils of saddling a wild horse. To the surprise of no one, his analogies tend to get a little more off the wall when Syracuse football is winning.
Then again, SU did most of Dino’s talking for him last Saturday against UConn in a 48-14 annihilation of the Huskies.
SU’s 2-0 start to 2022 is not without caveats. The wins have come against a Louisville team that wasn’t great a year ago and a dyed-in-the-wool college football doormat in Connecticut, but the fashion with which they’ve been achieved is more notable. Those questions about Syracuse’s offense and Garrett Shrader’s ability? All but vanquished after two weeks, a 79.2% completion rate, and eight total touchdowns to no interceptions. The secondary? Sublime. The linebackers? Off to a terrific start and gaining accolades for their efforts.
Back in Dino’s first season on The Hill – a hopeless 4-8 doldrums in 2016 – he had one of his more famous dessert-based analogies about the team and its process that rings relevant today.
“When it’s all said and done, you guys will like the cake we’re baking. Right now is not the time to eat the batter.” (Babers to CNYCentral, 10/3/16)
Six years later, the Orange have put away the icing sleeve and just finished putting the last touches on the marzipan. Consider the ‘22 squad the finished, gleaming product.
Running back Sean Tucker (‘20), linebackers Marlowe Wax (‘20) and Mikel Jones (‘19), cornerback Garrett Williams (‘19), and left tackle Matthew Bergeron (‘19) are all talented pieces recruited in their respective high school classes that now form a talented nucleus of Orange. They’re all armed with major roles on this year’s team that feels more and more like a culmination of the past few years. They’ve all shone brightly through two weeks so far.
Then there’s the previously mentioned Shrader, who looks transformed and like a maestro under new offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s system. The former UVA coach has Shrader playing with new confidence that has allowed him to showcase previously unthinkable throws.
“The one he threw to Damien [Alford] was an absolute dime. An absolute dime…That’s NFL…when you’re throwing the ball like that, good things are going to happen.” (Babers on Shrader’s passing, 9/12/22)
Shrader’s performance against UConn (20-23, 292 yards, 3 TD 0 INT) was his finest in a Syracuse uniform. It all but stole the thunder from Tucker, whose 27-carry, 117-yard day marked the 11th time in 14 games that he’s hit the century mark. Babers went on to favorably compare Tucker to former St. Louis Rams first-round pick Trung Canidate, who played at Arizona during Babers’ three-year tenure as offensive coordinator.
“He’s [Tucker] extremely fast, he’s low to the ground. Corvette, Porsche…and when he goes downhill and he decides ‘that’s it’, you had better get him because if you close your eyes, he’s gone.” (Babers on Tucker, 9/12/22)
The mechanic quarterback and sportscar running back are a fitting tandem in Syracuse’s most exciting offense since Eric Dungey and Moe Neal patrolled the backfield in 2018. SU’s checkered flag is still a bowl in the Fall, but the next challenge is what may prove ‘Cuse’s mettle and vault it into the Top 25 for the first time since Week 2 of 2019 – a matchup with Purdue on Saturday.
The Boilermakers are 1-1 and lost some talent from their 9-4 ‘21 team, but still present a colossal test for the Orange and their porous history against the Big 10. Syracuse can either blossom or wilt in front of what’s sure to be a frenzied Dome crowd.
Some who followed SU’s last bowl team – that ‘18 squad – noted a Week 3 victory over Florida State was when they started believing in that year’s team. Four years later, Purdue presents the same opportunity for newfound belief in this Orange bunch with its creative coach and motor speedway backfield. Time to see just how real Syracuse intends to be.