The Syracuse Orange (4-0, 1-0) are in the midst of their best start since 1991. That means more national attention, an ABC game against the No. 2 Clemson Tigers (4-0, 1-0 ACC), and votes in the AP Poll. But, more importantly, that means an optimistic Dino Babers teleconference. Here’s what he had to say today.
Dino sure does love his movies
Anyone who knows anything about Syracuse football is very aware that Dino Babers is an ardent fan of cinema. In a profile written by the talented Richard Johnson back in March of 2017, Babers classified movies as an escape, an easy getaway for a young kid who was constantly moving. Today, he continued this trend, labeling a key tenet of Syracuse football straight from film.
“You know, one of the things that we like to do is we like to have that philosophy of ‘Heartbreak Ridge,’ that movie, adjust and improvise. We constantly -- throughout camp we change things up, we change schedules because when you go on away trips, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready to just adjust. You never know what’s going to happen on an away trip, and sometimes things are totally out of your control, but you still need to be able to get your job done. We kind of look at it as no big deal. We’ll go somewhere else, we’ll sleep somewhere else, and we’ll still try to go out and do the best job we can do.”
Outside of the movie reference, this makes sense. Babers was referencing how Syracuse stayed at the Double Tree hotel instead of the Crowne Plaza before last year’s game against Clemson. But this truly embodies who he is. Babers was always on the move as a child. He moved from state to state, country to country, as his father was a member of the Navy. He always had to adjust to a new school, home, town, etc. As a coach, he’s never stayed in one position for more than three years, until his time at SU. He’s always on the move, looking for the next opportunity to elevate his stature and position as a coach. To that end, it’s fairly respectable.
Still no clear starter at running back
Since the pre-season, he has emphasized that he will ride with the hot hand. Yet, junior running back Moe Neal has almost double the carries through four games. I understand his stance here, but senior running back Dontae Strickland has seen far less playing time than his counterpart. Dino still remains insistent that this is a two-way backfield, with both seeing time.
“I think everybody kind of brings their own dimension back there, everybody has their own special talents,” he said. “I don’t think that one guy has stood out. If one guy stood out he’d be the guy back there most of the time, and until someone separates themselves from the group, I think those guys have been very unselfish the way they work together.”
The first part of that statement is true: both Neal, Strickland and freshman Jarveon Howard all have their own specific skill set. Neal is faster and more agile, Strickland is more experienced and perhaps the better ball-carrier near the goal line, and Howard is tougher between the tackles. Neal has gotten more carries, but SU’s also been running out the clock a lot, which messes with those carries numbers. Would assume he’s standing out a little more -- just not enough to be the back.
More praise for the defense
After the first game against Western Michigan where they randomly had struggles in the second and third quarters, the SU defense has been stout so far this year. They’ve only allowed 38 points in the last three games, including a near shutout against Florida State. Even more impressive, the secondary has seven interceptions, three more than its total all of last year. Babers is on watch, praising them for their performance.
“I think we’ve been extremely fundamentally sound, and we’ve really done some nice things,” he said. “We’re winning our one-on-one battles up front with the defensive line. We’re being opportunistic in the back end with our DB’s get an opportunity to touch a football for an interception, their catching percentage is through the roof right now, which we’re really excited about.”
If this continues, SU will be in great position to make a bowl game. Entering the heart of the schedule, it will be imperative that they keep up the high level of play.