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In 2019, Syracuse football will go as far as their defense will take them

Despite being a less than perfect unit, the Orange defense is the best hope in ACC play for ‘Cuse.

Syracuse v North Carolina State Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I’m going to tell you something not all that surprising about Syracuse Orange head coach Dino Babers’s career to date: the offensively minded head coach has never had a team finish a season where the defense was ranked higher than the offense in SP+.

2014 (Bowling Green): 74th Offense/100th Defense

2015 (Bowling Green): 18th Offense/93rd Defense

2016: 66th Offense/84th Defense

2017: 57th Offense/66th Defense

2018: 44th Offense/60th Defense

To date, the 2019 Orange are 71st in Offense, 65th in Defense, which would be Babers’s second best defense ever, and after last night’s performance, I’m inclined to think the offense takes a dive while the defense rises.

My point is: this is a new situation for Dino Babers, Brian Ward, and the rest of the assembled staff. This program overhaul felt completed after a 10-3 season. It wasn’t. This is the first time Babers has had to handle a quarterback transition at Syracuse. This is the first time the staff has had to get players into the mentality of the team with the target, instead of looking for one. And this is the first time that the defense is the better unit on the team.

Why is the defense more successful? The ACC has horrible offensive line play, leading Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman to feast. Josh Black has looked solid as a fill in for McKinley Williams, allowing the line to cause enough pressure that it covers the so so play of the linebackers.

But even that unit is improving! The combination of Andrew Armstrong and Lakiem Williams seems to be working to some degree, an improvement over whatever the heck happened in the first three games of the season. The secondary has been hurt, and at full strength will include an All-American and an up and coming corner will All-Conference talent.

Not to sound like a one note instrument, but this is the first time that this staff have had this talented of a defense. It’s the first time that they need to plan around the defense being the better unit. And I’m not sure what it means.

No team will be as much of a mess as N.C. State was last night. The Wolfpack tried to hand the game to Syracuse in so many ways, it only drives home how poor the offense was for most of the contest. It also should worry many that we’re talking about a defense who has been torched twice as the better unit on the team.

I think we’re beyond the point of hoping for a miracle turnaround on offense. They are what they are, and it’s a unit figuring it out on the fly. The defense has an identity, with significant carry-over from last season in key ways. That’s something. And probably the best thing going for this team right now.

How far can this defense take the Orange? Let’s hope it’s 3 more wins. Otherwise we’re in for a very long offseason.