Following Syracuse's 31-14 loss to Pittsburgh, here are five takeaways that more geared towards thoughts on the season overall and the direction of the program.
1. What We Learned This Season - The Good
First, Sean Tucker is a flat out stud. Syracuse needs to do whatever it can to keep him in Orange. Having him go to the NFL and have "Syracuse" next to his name in bios and on television when they announce starters and when people play Madden is all important exposure for the program. Second, Garrett Shrader gave Syracuse a spark. Even though he did not play well in two of the last three games, he still sparked an offense that was racking up over 400 yards and 30+ points for several weeks. The offensive line showed improvement. The defense took major strides as well. Syracuse was more competitive this season compared to last. There were positives to take away from the 2021 campaign.
2. What We Learned This Season - The Bad
Shrader's inconsistency throwing the ball was the Orange's fatal flaw. The more tape teams had to study, the better equipped they were to defend Syracuse's rushing attack. Especially in the finale, when Pittsburgh basically took its safeties off the field in favor of more linebackers. They dared Shrader to throw and sold out on stopping Tucker and Shrader on the ground. Early season close calls cost the Orange a bowl game. Three straight losses by three points where there were poor plays or questionable coaching decisions that contributed to those losses. Where Syracuse felt like the better team for most of them. Frustrating, no doubt. The further the season went along, the more susceptible to giving up the big play the defense was. That is a concern moving forward. Some of that was due to health, but it still hurt the Orange's chances to win games.
3. Disappointing End to the Season
Sitting at 5-4, it felt like Syracuse had found itself. The offense was rolling, the defense making plays, and Syracuse had won two straight against teams that would become bowl teams. Losing three straight, each by multiple scores, is disappointing considering the competitiveness of the first nine games. Especially the Pitt game. Syracuse jumped on the Panthers early to take a 7-0 lead, stopped one of the best offenses in the country three straight possessions without giving up a first down, and could not extend the lead. That came back to bite the Orange. Third straight season with no bowl game, and seven of the last eight with no postseason. Rough.
4. Most Important Thing for the Offseason
There are a lot of things that are important for this offseason. Filling out the roster, finding talent that can help right away in the portal (I'm looking at defensive lineman and wide receiver), and who returns (Mikel Jones and Garrett Williams are expected to explore the professional route, but have left the door open on returning). But the most important thing for Syracuse is Garrett Shrader finding a quarterback guru type and working on throwing the football the entire offseason. Develop that area of his game. He showed flashes this year, and made some really nice throws against Pittsburgh. In fact, he threw for 217 yards (more than Kenny Pickett) on 17-24 and two touchdowns. Going into the game, if you would have told me that would be his state line, I'd guess Syracuse wins. That said, he needs to become far more consistent, needs to work on his accuracy on intermediate and deep throws, and throwing power on some of those shorter throws (wide receiver screens take too long for the ball to get there). If he develops that area of his game, he has the potential to be dynamic. Easier said than done, however.
5. Will Dino Be Back?
Outside of just roster construction and player development, the other thing Syracuse needs to decide is if Dino Babers will be back on the sideline in 2022. Perhaps they have already made that decision. Perhaps they will think about it over the next few days or a week and decide then. Either way, Syracuse needs to make that announcement as soon as possible. If you decide to retain him, announcing it helps recruiting both in the portal and high school/junior college prospects. Not doing so makes the coaching staff's job even more difficult on the recruiting trail. If Syracuse is not retaining Dino, announcing that early allows the search to start sooner, which is beneficial to everyone. And if Dino is not retained and you want to convince Sean Tucker to return for the new coach, you probably have to hire him sooner rather than later. I believe Dino will be back, but I do not know that for certain.