What to Make of the Syracuse Offense

Jacob Payne

Through two games of the 2020 season, the Syracuse Orange offense has accounted for 254-yards passing on 62 attempts (4.1 AVG) and 119-yards rushing on 69 carries (1.7 AVG). They’ve tallied 16-points, 14 sacks, 11 first downs, three field goals, two interceptions, one touchdown and zero wins. Saying things don’t look good on paper would be an understatement.

When asked where he thought the biggest problems were, head coach Dino Babers narrowed it down.

“The O-line has their issues, receivers have their issues, the quarterbacks have their issues,” Babers answered during his Monday press conference. “We're trying to eliminate one so we can focus on the next two, and then eliminate two so we can get to the one, until we can finally get going.”

While each group deserves its fair share of the blame, all roads run through the offensive line. Unfortunately for the Orange, the only thing running through the line lately is an opposing pass rush. If things continue at this barbaric pace, ‘Cuse quarterbacks will be sacked an insane 77-times in 11 games. Unfortunately for QB Tommy DeVito, he’s been the sole recipient of the first 14.

DeVito, who Babers says will be the starter against Georgia Tech, felt the brunt of 44 sacks last season. The impact of those hits forced him to miss playing time. His health continues to remain a concern in 2020 after four first half sacks against Pitt sent him to the sidelines. Babers acknowledged that there were better ways to protect his quarterback, but they came at the cost of creativity on offense.

“You can do certain things to protect people, and in doing that, you're never taking any risk” Babers explained. “And if you're not taking any risk, then you're not really pushing the envelope, trying to win.”

So far, play-calling has looked neither cautious nor creative. It really is a far cry from the Dino Babers offense that averaged 40-points a game just two years ago. Even still inconsistent with the USF offense OC Sterlin Gilbert piloted to 440-yards a game that same season. Early results have fell well short of expectations, but Babers says it isn’t from a lack of trying.

“What you got is two guys that are used to success,” Babers said of his two new coordinators. “Working unlimited hours to give the community what they deserve and you can only change so much so fast. Coach Gilbert's work ethic is unmatched and we're going to get this thing done.”

There’s no reason to question how hard coaches and players are working. The simple fact is that, through the first two games, they have nothing to show for it. And there doesn’t appear to be any visible light at the end of the tunnel. At least not to most observers, but Babers says looks can be deceiving.

“Everybody's barely missing,” Babers reassured members of the media on Monday. “We're barely misfiring on stuff. It looks big to everybody else. It's small to us. And we've got to take care of those little things. And if we take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.”

It’s hard to ignore what’s happened, or hasn’t happened, against Pitt and North Carolina. Facing two ranked teams in the first two weeks was never supposed to be easy, but it wasn’t supposed to look this hard either. With the offensive performances we’ve seen thus far, you wonder if there’s really anything useful to be gained from watching the tape. Perhaps it’s best to just move on and try to pretend it never happened. A short-term memory could be the shortest distance between here and watchable football. Coach Babers says a clean conscience is crucial to getting back to where the Syracuse offense is used to being.

“We need to get over our first two losses and get ourselves in the right frame of mind. We just got to keep chopping wood and believe in the things that we believe in and hang our hats on our fundamentals and our techniques.”

Luckily for the Orange, they’ll be back to where they’re used to being on Saturday as they open their home schedule and debut the new Carrier Dome roof against ACC opponent Georgia Tech starting at 12p ET.  The Yellow Jackets opened as 7.5-point favorites over the Orange on the road, the first time they’ve been favored in a game this season. Georgia Tech meets Syracuse fresh of their first loss of the season, a convincing 49-21 defeat delivered by the UCF Golden Knights.