The Syracuse Orange (4-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) has no real reason for pessimism. Even after blowing a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter in Death Valley, the fact that SU led No. 2 Clemson for practically the entirety of the game on the road is a sign of encouragement and growth. Head coach Dino Babers sounds someone who has put what could have been to rest and is moving on to this weekend’s road trip to Pittsburgh.
Without further ado, let’s break down what he said.
This is not the defense you’re used to seeing under Dino
Since Babers made the trek from northwestern Ohio to central New York, he has never coached a defense inside of the top 90 of Footballoutsiders.com S+P ratings. That could easily change this year. After practically handing Western Michigan 42 points in game one, the Orange has only allowed 65 points in the subsequent four matchups. Including last week, where entering the fourth quarter, Clemson had mustered just 13 points. Withstanding the fourth quarter meltdown against the Tigers, Babers is still confident in his group.
“Outside of the last drive of the Clemson game, I thought our defense has been doing really well,” Babers said. “We had some hiccups in the first game versus Western Michigan. I thought that was corrected for game two, game three and game four. And I thought we played a fantastic game for the first three quarters, I really did. I don’t think that we’re in the game without our defense and the way they played against Clemson. And I’m really high on them and hopefully they’ll have a performance like 2018 and not a performance like 2016 at Pittsburgh.”
In that game Babers is referring to, Pittsburgh and Syracuse played in the highest scoring FBS game in recorded history. The two teams tallied a 137 points, 1312 total yards of offense, and 58 first downs.
The Orange clearly had an array of issues from the defensive line to the secondary in that season-ending loss. Two years later, the defensive side of the ball looks vastly improved for Syracuse.
Let’s face it, Sterling Hofrichter is going to the NFL
Anyone who has watched junior Sterling Hofrichter punt knows that this guy has a boot at the end of his leg. He was a candidate for the Ray Guy award in 2017, which is given to the best punter in the nation. He was a part of the No. 1 ranked unit in the ACC (10th nationally) in net punting average (41.3). When his time is done at Syracuse, you will see Hofrichter booming punts on Sundays.
“Sterling is an NFL punter,” Babers said. “Had an NFL punter when I first got here (#RileyDixonForHeisman). He never got to punt for me. I think he went to the Denver Broncos. He might be at the Giants or somewhere now. But I’ve had NFL punters at UCLA. I’ve had NFL punters at other stops. And Sterling is going to be playing in the NFL. That’s why it looks different, because they are. It is different.”
As Babers elleuded to, Hofrichter was mentored by current New York Giants punter Riley Dixon and it clearly shows. Whether he’s punishing teams back inside into their own territory or crushing kicks to help SU’s field position, he has become a force for the Orange.
Andre Szmyt could follow him in a few years too
Perhaps the revelation of the special teams is true freshman Andre Szmyt (Not sure how that’s pronounced like Schmidt), who has only missed one field goal in his first five games. He’s shown no signs of his age, connecting on a 51-yarder in Death Valley on Saturday. As well, Szmyt has connected on all 26 of his extra points. Thus, it makes sense why Babers was not surprised by his three field-goal performance on Saturday
“Well, the last time I think he kicked a 50-yarder before that, and when he kicked the 50-yarder he had it by five yards,” he said. “So I thought, Well, okay, looks like it could be 55. I looked and there wasn’t that much wind. This is one yard more and the last time he kicked it it went 55, so I thought he could get it there.”
If Szmyt is 18 and accurately kicking the ball 55 yards, who knows what his limit is? Maybe, with a full off-season of working on his form, strength, and footwork, he can extend that to 60 yards. In a sport like college football where kickers are widely inconsistent, finding one who can routinely connect on long field goals is a rarity.