The Syracuse Orange football team held its annual spring game Saturday afternoon in the Carrier Dome. No score was kept and the game was played in two halves with a five minute break in-between. There were no kick-offs as the offense would simply start with the ball at its on 20-yard line, 40-yard line or opponent's 20-yard line to simulate a red zone offense.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the scrimmage.
When Dino Babers was first announced as the new head of Syracuse football, the general assumption was that Babers, a coach with a long and extensive offensive background coming from Baylor and Bowling Green, would greatly improve and speed up an Orange offense that appeared dull and lifeless for long stretches of play last season.
While it was only a scrimmage, the results were fully on display as Syracuse scored 13 total touchdowns Saturday. For comparison's sake, Syracuse's offense under ex-head coach Scott Shafer only managed to score a single touchdown in last year's spring game
In addition to the prolific scoring, the offense also finished with 764 total yards and had several long 80-yard scoring drives when starting on their own 20-yard line.
Syracuse Played Fast, Plan to Play Faster
Saturday was the first opportunity for fans and media to get an extended look at Syracuse's revamped uptempo offense. The Orange finished with a total of 155 plays and would quickly get back to the line at the conclusion of each one. Despite the offense finishing with 13 touchdowns and a much more fast and exciting style of play compared to last year, Babers said he was still disappointed with the pace of the offense.
"I thought the tempo of the offense was okay," Babers said. "We'll never be that slow again."
Starting quarterback Eric Dungey concurred with his coach's sentiment, saying the offense was only running at "half speed."
"I mean we're not fast enough at all," Dungey said. "We're probably at half speed right now. We got to get a lot faster, put a lot of work in the off-season, watch film, get our bodies right and hopefully get this thing going."
Eric Dungey Leads The Way
Dungey may not have been impressed with the offensive tempo, but he still had a productive afternoon regardless. While Dungey did finish the afternoon with three turnovers, two lost fumbles and an interception, he looked poised and impressive overall, finishing with more touchdowns, seven, than incompletions, six.
In total, Dungey completed 27 of 33 passes for 297 yards and seven touchdowns, to just one interception. In addition, Dungey also had a few nice scrambles at times, but it's hard to judge due to the fact the defense is only allowed to touch the quarterback, not tackle.
Dungey said that overall he believes the team's spring practices were tiring, but also very rewarding and successful.
"You just got to work hard every day," Dungey said. "You're up early. You always got to be focused. ...Really just adjusting, you've got to adjust on the fly. New coaching staff, so you have to learn a new offense. But they expect the highest of us, so that's the good thing about it."
Alvin Cornelius With the Hat Trick
Redshirt-senior wide receiver Alvin Cornelius began the scrimmage losing a fumble on his first catch of the game, and just the second play of the day. He looked poised and dominant after that.
Cornelius finished last season with six receptions for 56 yards and no touchdowns. Saturday he hauled in five receptions for 85 yards and three touchdowns. He would have finished with four, but one of his scores was called back due to an illegal formation with five players starting in the backfield.
The 6' 1" 187-pound starting Z-receiver caught all three of his touchdowns from Dungey. The first was a pin-point 34-yard over-the-shoulder. The second a 30-yard strike coming off of a play-action. And the third was a seven-yard quick slant.
Running Game Improves
Last season, Syracuse averaged a mediocre 4.4 yards-per-carry. However, Syracuse's backfield, which features current-starter Dontae Strickland, freshman Moe Neal, sophomore Jordan Fredericks and redshirt-senior George Morris II, averaged a superb 6.2 yards-per-carry Saturday.
While all four running backs had their moments, Neal was the most impressive and surprising. Neal is an early-enrollee whose only collegiate experience has come during spring practices. Despite his limited playing time, Neal, who worked as the second-team running back, looked confident, explosive and shifty when handling the football.
The highlight of Neal's day came on the third drive of the second half when he broke off a long gain in which he cut and juked past multiple Syracuse defenders before finally being brought down inside the five-yard line. He scored on the next play on a run right up the gut.
Strickland said he was impressed with Neal's performance and believes that once the freshman gets a better understanding of the playbook, he'll be able to greatly contribute to the team's success.
"If you put him in the backfield he'll wiggle through small holes and everything," Strickland said. "He can stay skinny, but once he gets his feet wet, a little bit wetter, in the summer, he'll be somebody to watch."
Chris "Bull" Slayton
While the defense as a whole failed to produce a strong showing, one of the unit's lone bright spots was redshirt-sophomore defensive lineman Chris Slayton. Slayton finished the game with three tackles for a loss and a sack. Slayton also delivered the hit of the game when he seemingly obliterated Fredericks in the backfield for a five-yard loss.
Strickland said Fredericks hasn't been the only running back who's taken a beating from Slayton, admitting that he got rocked by Slayton during the second week of spring practice.
"You know, that kid is just a bull," Strickland said. "He was just, it's going into a brick wall and you just got to get right back up and go to the next play."
While Slayton said he appreciated being described as a hard-hitting "bull," he's more focused on making sure he wraps opposing offensive players up and bring them to the ground.
"I'll be just trying to wrap-up, tackle smart and become a smarter tackler," Slayton said.