SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) On a weekend dominated by the school's basketball teams, Dino Babers gave Syracuse football fans a first glimpse of his hurry-up spread offense, and the Orange didn't disappoint in a lively spring scrimmage that lasted around two hours Saturday.
When it was over, the crowd of just over 4,000 offered an appreciative applause that didn't go unnoticed.
''Considering that we've got two teams in the Final Four - a lot of young people jumped on a bus for a 25-hour ride to Houston - for us to get a turnout out of the community without the student body, I thought it was outstanding,'' said Babers, who replaced Scott Shafer in December. ''I just wanted to see the flow, I wanted to see the communication. You can close your eyes and hear a good football team. I just wanted to make sure that the communication was out there that gives us a chance.''
Babers thought it was, and it was indeed fast-paced, with the quarterbacks getting the plays from the sideline as Babers, whistle in mouth, watched from behind the action. Just like an NBA game, mood music played at low volume during the entire scrimmage, which featured little hitting and lots of fake passes to disguise runs.
Overall, the offense ran 155 plays, with Eric Dungey, Zack Mahoney, Austin Wilson and freshman Rex Culpepper taking snaps. Although Babers insisted nobody wins a job in spring, Dungey stood out as the clear front-runner to continue as the starter after his injury-plagued freshman season.
Adjusting to a new staff and a new system is not a big deal for the sophomore.
''You've got to adjust on the fly,'' Dungey said. ''A new coaching staff, learning a new offense, they expect the highest of us. That's the good thing about it. Every year in high school I had a new coach, new offense. Then last year a new coach, new offense, this year a new coach, a new offense. I've never really had a year where I've had two years under an offense, so I'm looking forward to it.''
Dungey was 27 of 33 for 296 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception and displayed a nice sliding touch that will help keep him out of trouble when he runs or scrambles. He suffered at least two head injuries last year and received several other hard hits to the head that forced him to sit out the final three games of the 2015 season.
Alvin Cornelius paced the receivers with five catches for 85 yards and three TDs, Brisly Estime also had five catches, with two going for scores, and Kenterius Womack had five catches for 82 yards and one TD as seven receivers scored at least once on passes. George Morris had 99 yards rushing on 11 carries and scored once, while Dontae Strickland rushed for 84 yards and one score on 12 carries. Moe Neal, rated as the best prospect of the incoming class, dazzled, gaining 76 yards on 15 carries and scoring four times.
''When we started, it was a lot to take in,'' said Strickland, who also caught three passes for 18 yards. ''When game time comes around at the start of the season, we'll be 150 miles an hour. Right now, we're doing pretty good.''
Antwan Cordy had perhaps the most impressive play of the day, a diving over-the-shoulder interception at the goal line of a long pass from Dungey.
More than 20 potential recruits were on campus to check out the facilities, and Babers is expected to add graduate transfer Gabe Sherrod as well as class of 2016 signees Jaquwan Nelson, Joshua Black and Kendall Coleman in May.
It's only April, but the mood on the Orange was noticeably different after the season finale in November, when Shafer won his last game as coach.
The locker room wasn't a happy place then. It seems to be now.
''We definitely feel a lot more confident this year as opposed to last year,'' linebacker Shyheim Cullen said. ''It's the type of coaches that they are. Coach Babers is all about winning. That's the way it was with the old coaching staff, but this coaching staff is different. You can feel that aura that they have.''
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