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Whiplash: A Syracuse football story

Tommy’s an Italian Miles Teller if we’re being honest with ourselves.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

There are at least a few issues we can point to with the Syracuse Orange football team through two games this season. Though the defense may be the biggest one after allowing 63 points to Maryland on Saturday, the offense is its own head-scratcher given its lack of pace thus far.

That got us thinking about the off-kilter tempo of the two games, and how coach Dino Babers must be feeling about the Orange lacking in that department given that it’s sort of the signature of his scheme. This eventually led to 2014’s Whiplash.

For the unfamiliar, Whiplash starred Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in a movie mostly about drumming and abusive father figures. Without spoiling the story, it’s most known, perhaps, for the “not my tempo” scene. Assuming Babers — a noted cinephile — has seen the film, this specific scene has no doubt been running through his head over the last two games. And perhaps his entire tenure at Syracuse in one way or another.

2016: 80.8 plays per game (8th)

2017: 85.6 plays per game (1st)

(note, this GIF’s actually not from that scene — just needed a happy one for Simmons)

2018: 81.2 plays per game (3rd)

2019, Week 1: 79 vs. Liberty

2019, Week 2: 70 vs. Maryland


Now there’s still plenty of season left, and Tommy DeVito has plenty of time to ramp up the speed of this offense. But when you look at the early data here, this group is lagging behind previous iterations of Babers’s offense at Syracuse to start the season:

  • 2016: 81 vs. Colgate, 93 vs. Louisville
  • 2017: 93 vs. Central Connecticut State, 93 vs. Middle Tennessee
  • 2018: 88 vs. Western Michigan, 80 vs. Wagner
  • 2019: 79 vs. Liberty, 70 vs. Maryland

Is this the toughest list of opponents for the first two games so far? Probably, yeah. Does that really matter in terms of plays per game? No.

The quarterback adjustment is certainly to blame to some extent, but that can’t be the entire excuse, and honestly it can’t be an excuse for long. DeVito and most of these offensive players have been on campus for more than a season, and they understand what’s required in terms of tempo. Running at a faster pace than the opposition is key to SU’s success, and helps make up for the talent gap against some foes. That happens at 80-plus plays per game. But at 70-75, it’s not necessarily cutting it.

Syracuse’s game against Clemson on Saturday may not necessarily right-size this trend even if DeVito and Co. are more up to the task. Both Tigers opponents to-date haven’t even hit 70 (69 for Texas A&M and 63 for Georgia Tech), But it doesn’t mean they can’t figure it out eventually.

After Clemson, SU faces Western Michigan and Holy Cross to help work out the issues before ACC play kicks back off. If they look more equipped to go fast once again, we’re in good shape for a better second half of the season. If not... well, let’s not go there just yet.