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Syracuse beats Western Michigan, but leaves more questions than answers

Just someone tell me what exactly this game was, please?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange beat the Western Michigan Broncos, 55-42. This you know.

Beyond that, however? Friday night’s win was a puzzling array of defensive gaffes, questionable coaching decisions and some lingering concerns about Eric Dungey’s long-term health once again.

Look, I’ll start by saying I’m a big Dino Babers fan. I believe in everything he’s doing here at Syracuse, think he’s moving the program in the right direction and has clearly upped the talent and level of play on this roster.

HOWEVER, we can’t let that just gloss over the major questions that come out of tonight around how he managed Dungey’s being under center, and the timing of when he reentered the game.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Following Dungey’s impressive stiffarm and another Orange touchdown, the senior QB had his shoulder taped. There was talk of a potential issue there, but with a 34-7 lead, it was less questionable as to why Babers sat him for Tommy DeVito late in the second quarter. Same goes for when the frosh was under center to start the third, still holding that 27-point lead.

Drive after drive thereafter began to cut into that advantage, though. And it wasn’t until WMU scored 21 unanswered points that Dungey finally reentered. Fittingly, that drive resulted in a touchdown for SU.

But what made Babers wait so long? And especially, what made them wait a full drive after this statement from Pete Moore? If Dungey missed the remainder of the game, it’s a little more understandable (albeit still terrifying). Since he was back and seemed reasonably healthy enough to go though, why let the game go from 34-7 to 34-28 before putting the team leader back in?

On a related note, what on earth was going on with this defense in the second half?

If it reminded you of the Wake Forest game, you wouldn’t be alone. Western Michigan’s Jon Wassink was 13-of-20 for 327 yards and three scores in the second half. That rate slowed a bit after Dungey came back (still not sure how he impacts the defense the way he does). But what was it that let Wassink just complete big throws as will?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The promising starts from Scoop Bradshaw, Antwan Cordy and others gave way to struggles, blown coverage and an inability to make tackles. Andre Cisco was targeted and beat after his early interception. There’s more to it than just “those players didn’t make plays.” I’m just not sure what that is. We’re not in full-on #FIREBRIANWARD mode yet. That said, that concern about whether or not last year’s disastrous finish was the exception or the norm does start to teeter the way of the Orange needing a real change.

Also worth considering is the receiver situation which also trended closer to what we saw to conclude 2017 than the fireworks show we’ve become accustomed to under Babers. Jamal Custis had six catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Devin Butler dropped everything that came near him. No one else really got involved either. Was this a product of SU moving the ball so well on the ground (334 yards). Or a greater worry about whether or not this receiver group is really ready? — as Babers seemed to question all offeason.

There’s more to dig into as well, from the lack of real pressure from Syracuse defensive line, to the offensive line flipping a switch when Dungey was out from savvy to as broken down as last year’s worst moments.

They say the most adjustments happen between weeks one and two. But I’m not so sure we’ll learn much against Wagner either.

A win’s a win. And obviously you’d rather leave a tough road game on the right side of a 55-42 contest. I’m just feeling as uncertain about what to expect this year as I was before kickoff tonight.

That’s fine. And also terrifying.