SU dropped its third straight game of the year on Saturday. This time, a dismal day at Acrisure Stadium saw the Orange go silent on offense and fall 19-9 to Pitt. The loss meant SU is still winless at Pittsburgh since 2001, but there’s plenty to talk about with a look toward the boxscore. Let’s break down some of the key figures that brought down SU.
Thanks mostly to injuries, there is now a definite book on the Syracuse defense. It has only one chapter and one page that reads “pound the rock” in big, bold letters. For the third consecutive week, Syracuse’s opponent did just that to great effect and completely destroyed any chance for SU to gain rhythm, run its gameplan, or control the clock. Pitt ran the ball 48 times for 161 plodding yards (no Panther back gained more than 13 yards on any carry), but it still marked a high-water mark for SU over the past three weeks. Pitt’s 161, Notre Dame’s 246, and Clemson’s 293 yards on the ground total to an even 700 – one of the worst three-week stretches of run defense in Dino Babers’ tenure.
‘Cuse has usually been rough against the run under Babers since his hiring in 2016, so the last three weeks check in at only the No. 9 spot of worst run defending stretches.
|Most rush yards allowed over three-week span, 2016-22||Games, Year||Opponents|
|1,115||Weeks 10-12, 2017||Wake Forest, Louisville, Boston College|
|989||Weeks 9-11, 2017||Florida State, Wake Forest, Louisville|
|976||Weeks 3-5, 2020||Georgia Tech, Duke, Liberty|
|911||Weeks 10-12, 2016||NC State, Florida State, Pitt|
|798||Weeks 2-4, 2016||Louisville, USF, UConn|
|776||Weeks 2-4, 2019||Maryland, Clemson, Western Michigan|
|737||Weeks 5-7, 2018||Clemson, Pitt, UNC|
|713||Weeks 9-11, 2016||Clemson, NC State, Florida State|
|700||Weeks 7-9, 2022||Clemson, Notre Dame, Pitt|
The table above shows us a few things. First, Babers’ first two seasons (back-to-back 4-8 campaigns) were far and away worse against the run than any of his recent squads. The 1,115 yards allowed over three games to end the 2017 season is more than some teams rack up in a year. In those three contests, Wake Forest’s Matt Colburn (31 car, 237 yards) and future NFL talents in Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (12 car, 111 yards) and Boston College’s AJ Dillon (23 car, 193 yards) did serious damage.
Since then, SU has gone through a bad stretch like this roughly once per year. However, the back-to-back 200+ yard games this year mark the first time SU had allowed 200 or more in consecutive weeks since its 1-10 2020 season. A slew of injuries on the defensive side is the likely culprit, but solutions on that front won’t come easy anytime soon.
Armed with its backup quarterback on the road, SU mustered its worst offensive output in the last three seasons by one specific metric. Florida transfer Carlos Del Rio-Wilson looked uncomfortable and inaccurate in his first career start under center, and piloted a ‘Cuse offense that put up just 145 total yards. Syracuse’s 3.0 yards-per-play against the Panthers marks the 15th time since 2000 that an Orange team averaged three or fewer per pop in a game.
Syracuse first pulled the trick in back-to-back years in 2000 and 2001 against Miami’s team of future NFL players and safety Ed Reed. The late Greg Robinson saw his teams go that cold on offense a whopping seven times (!) during his tenure that spanned 2005-08, including an awful 35-0 blowout in 2007 against Iowa that helped create The Fizz. Dino Babers’ teams have labored to 3.0 or fewer four times: against Clemson in 2019, at North Carolina in 2020’s season opener, and at Pittsburgh the very next week in ‘20.
Finally, Syracuse’s offensive struggle wasn’t just contained to Del Rio-Wilson. Wideout Damien Alford led the team in receptions with two, and star running back Sean Tucker looked out of sorts again in a 10 carry, 19-yard day. SU finished the day with just 10 first downs and only six of them via its offensive unit. The six offensive first downs (non-penalty) are the fewest by an SU team in 14 years.
Greg Robinson’s former teams are the main culprits on an ignominious list. Between 2005 and 2008, Syracuse totaled a 10-37 (unsanctioned) record, including a 1-10 disaster in ‘05. That season, SU began its year inside the Dome against West Virginia and totaled just six first downs in a 15-7 loss. Two years later, SU put up its low-water mark since 2000 with five offensive first downs in that aforementioned loss to Iowa. The Orange then tied that low in 2008 against Rutgers to round out an ugly trio of performances.
SU has a better offense than any of those squads and has stayed mostly injury-free, but it’s clearly time for something to be fixed. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae suddenly has his work cut out for him ahead of a Dome battle with Florida State.