“Year two, game four.”
That was what Dino Babers laid out for us soon after he arrived as coach of the Syracuse Orange. That was later adjusted to “games four through six.” And then he cautioned this summer that injuries could hold up the team’s imminent offensive explosion beyond that stretch, maybe even to the end of this season.
At ACC Football Kickoff, Eric Dungey bought into the original timeline, just like you did. This team’s had Saturday’s game against the LSU Tigers circled for quite some time. Part of that is due to the quality of opponent and the location of the contest. But Babers’s “year two, game four” exclamation has been a low-key rallying cry, even if the coach has attempted to downplay it a bit since.
There’s credence to Babers’s desire to push the timeline out somewhat. Injuries have hurt, especially on the offensive line. And the Orange have honestly put together very few complete offensive efforts vs. FBS teams since Babers took over. The list is probably Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Pitt. Even this past game vs. Central Michigan featured a rough first quarter or so before the team started firing.
So there are reasons to doubt that this weekend is THE weekend Syracuse kicks it into a higher gear on offense. The difficulty of playing at LSU is one. What we’ve watched so far is another. The offensive line injuries (and lack of protection) are also big factors.
There have also been reasons for hope, though -- more for the four-to-six game stretch, vs. maybe this specific game.
We’ll dig in more during Tuesday’s play-call recap, but the team tried big plays against CMU, even if they didn’t always connect. The run game was better, even if inconsistent. Touchdowns came quicker and more frequently in a two-quarter deluge in the middle of the game.
Babers arrived with confidence, but asked for patience. That’s a tough balancing act, but one he’s managed with reasonable aplomb thus far. The half-steps backward have happened, but not without cause or acknowledgment. As we mentioned last week, one game won’t define his time at SU. And no one believes that more than the man himself.
As much as that truth applied to a loss against Middle Tennessee, it’ll also apply to an unlikely victory over LSU, should it happen (and I’m not saying it will, by any stretch). “THAT” moment when this offense completely clicks may not even be that notable. It could simply be a more effective run game in game five that spurs defensive adjustments to open up the deep ball. Or in game seven, the team’s pace puts the opposition on its heels to the point of distraction, covering up some missteps along the way to a win.
Babers said game four (to six) as a benchmark to start watching the tide visibly change. But it was never a guarantee. Neither was the general year-two turn that’s applied to his previous stops -- one that can’t look to this season’s schedule for assistance.
This process has not been linear, and it was never billed to be so. We’ve seen stops and starts in 15 games so far, but there has been progress. Dino’s “game four” proclamation is a start, not an ending. We may see all of the pieces of this offense look crisper this weekend. Or we might see a few look improved. Perhaps it’s none, honestly, given the quality of opponent (and the angst they’re likely playing with after Saturday’s loss).
The LSU game is notable because of what Dino once stated. But if the system really takes hold the way it’s supposed to, we’ll barely notice it as a step on the way to a further success. You’ll hear plenty about the quote this week, probably more from this very site too. But if we don’t look amazing vs. the Tigers, don’t think assume that goal’s dead.
To borrow another Dino analogy, the cake just might not be ready yet.