What a difference a year makes.
This time last year, Syracuse football had just beaten Ohio 29-9 in a not-so-scintillating opener that didn’t tell us all that much. This time around, there are no quarterback questions, no scoffs at the quality of competition, and perhaps most importantly, no doubt about what SU showed on Saturday.
Louisville represents not just an explosive offense with star quarterback Malik Cunningham, but also a specter that has hung over Syracuse’s program for the last nine years or so. Entering Saturday, ‘Cuse had beaten the Cards just once in its last eight tries. Make that twice in nine. In a cathartic 31-7 beatdown, Syracuse was the Ralphie to Louisville’s Scut Farkus in an early September showing of A Christmas Story.
“It reminded me of the good old days, and it also told me that we need more.” (Dino Babers on Saturday’s crowd, 9/3/22)
The most promising development of all was how in-sync and smooth Syracuse’s offense looked. SU’s 449 offensive yards aren’t the most they’ve had in one game since Eric Dungey’s swan song in 2018, but it’s hard not to label Saturday’s showing as SU’s finest offensive performance since it dumped West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl nearly four years ago.
After spending three years in a major offensive rut and with a combined 11-24 record to show for it, the Orange look to have found the tonic in a pair of former Cavaliers. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck have done yeoman’s work since coming over from Virginia. If you considered the passing game as Syracuse’s X-factor this year, Week 1 was a best-case scenario for the unit. SU’s receivers looked to be comfortable with more time spent in pre-snap motion and with more complex route trees than were ever featured in former OC Sterlin Gilbert’s two-season reign of terror.
Quarterback Garrett Shrader’s resulting opening performance (18-25, 237 yards, 2 touchdowns) was a revelation, particularly for a player who faced so many doubtful questions about his passing ability last season. Running back Sean Tucker also impressed, shaking off a second quarter injury to finish with 183 total yards. That pair of performances was more than enough in front of a fresh-looking SU defense – but one that’ll have to survive and advance the rest of the season without sophomore linebacker Stefon Thompson.
“They [defense] really played a complete game. Couldn’t be happier for Coach [Tony] White, couldn’t be happier for those single-digit guys and that entire defense.” (Babers on his defense’s performance, 9/3/22)
Even without Thompson (and fullback Chris Elmore), Syracuse now has a key win in its back pocket. It was a tough exercise to do mental gymnastics and figure out how SU could position itself for a bowl without at least one surprising win, but now such a victory is in hand. The Orange could realistically fall to Purdue and perhaps most of its schedule in late October and still come out in a salvageable position.
Dino Babers all but thumbed his nose to those who doubted his ability to rally the troops for another doomed mission against Louisville. That script has been flipped on its head, and SU now has the rest of the pre-bye week schedule to make some real noise.