The No. 12 Syracuse Orange (8-2, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) enters their final two games of the season with an opportunity to emphatically display its progress.
Facing two teams in the top 20, the Orange have perhaps already achieved a successful season. Following two straight 4-8 campaigns to open Dino Babers’s tenure in Central New York, ‘Cuse has doubled its own total in only 10 games. Now, SU has a chance to prove to the nation that it is a top team in the country. Here’s what Babers said about that on Wednesday.
This year is just different
Perhaps the least surprising nugget from his media appearance, Babers loves the camaraderie of this team. It’s for a good reason. This team appears to love playing with one another. They are always seen laughing and joking on the sidelines during big wins, celebrating as a team after big wins, and simply enjoying its magical season. Yet, it’s not just due to fortuitous circumstances. The Orange entered this year with a different mindset.
“They didn’t want to be the 2017 class that had one great upset win,” Babers said. “They didn’t want to be the 2016 class that had one great upset win. They wanted to do more.”
“... I think as the season started and we got a couple of wins, that they really wanted to have that done. They wanted more. Then we had the two situations in the middle of the season where we lost two games that we both led, that we led in the fourth quarter in both of those games. And then they had an opportunity to decide which way they were going to go. They decided they weren’t going to go the way of 2017 and they weren’t going to go the way of 2016. This is a family. It’s a la familia and ohana. And these guys are very close and they play for one another.”
The Orange have an opportunity to stamp and remember this season. On Saturday, it faces Notre Dame in a “home” game for the Irish that is actually closer to Syracuse than South Bend, Illinois. It should be a mixed crowd and that is definitely a plus for an SU team who thrives behind its home crowd.
The Notre Dame defense is incredible
On Saturday, the Orange will face against a defense who allows fewer than 340 yards per game, good enough for No. 25 in the nation. The Fighting Irish are experienced, talented, and athletic through all three phases of its defense. Lead by senior defensive lineman and Bednarik Award Watch List member, Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame averages over two sacks per game. Babers is wary of the looming challenge.
“Well, I think when you talk about Notre Dame’s defense, just like you said, their defense is outstanding,” he said. “And they’ve shut down major offenses that run the football. Major offenses that throw the football. They’ve gone against four tempo teams that didn’t even look like tempo teams against them; they’ve done so well against them.When I look at them, I really don’t see any chinks in their armor anywhere. They’re a very, very complete unit. They’re very deserving of the ranking that they have. And the only thing I can say about my quarterback is I’m glad that he’s a senior and he’s got some experience, because he’s going to need all the pictures that he’s seen to go against this Notre Dame defense.”
This won’t be the most difficult challenge for the SU offense. That award would go to facing the staunch Clemson defensive line in Death Valley. Yet, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. There’s a reason Notre Dame is the third best team in the country and junior Ian Book is not the only reason. This team has allowed under 2.5 touchdowns per game on the season. If Syracuse is to leave Yankee Stadium with a win, it will need to reach the end zone more than that.
Syracuse won’t change its game plan to stop the Notre Dame passing game
Since Book took over for senior Brandon Wimbush, the Irish offense game has flourished. He’s thrown 15 touchdowns and four interceptions since late September, as the Irish have not lost this season. Even though he missed last week’s win against Florida State with an upper body injury, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly expects him to play this week. Still, Babers is just going to coach his team the same way.
“If you play man to man obviously he can beat you. If you play zone, he can sit down in spaces,” he said. “You can’t play one thing all the time because Coach Kelly is too good of an offensive coordinator and coach. You’ve got to mix it up. You’re like a pitcher. You better have at least two pitches if you’re throwing just one pitch they’ll definitely going to hit it over the fence in Yankee Stadium.”
The Syracuse secondary is improved from the last time former Notre Dame quarterback Deshon Kizer shredded them for 470 yards and three scores. While senior Eric Dungey and the offense tallied 33 points, the defense was stomped on for 50. Saturday may well indeed be a shootout, but expect the Orange secondary to muster more of a defense than two years ago.