Cast your mind back to December 2015. The Syracuse Orange just found its new football head coach in Dino Babers. He asked the media in attendance at his introductory press conference to close their eyes. What Babers said next set the tone for the type of football he wanted to play at Syracuse.
“You have an offense that will not huddle and you have a game that is faster than you’ve ever seen on turf,” said Babers.
That fast tempo, no-huddle offense has defined Babers as a head coach. Syracuse consistently pushed the pace of the game while he was in charge. While the results haven’t been there, you cannot say that the product on the field hasn’t been exciting to watch.
Then 2020 came and a whole slew of changes flew into the door. Babers got a new offensive coordinator in Sterlin Gilbert, who was with Babers at Eastern Illinois. But before Gilbert could integrate his offensive philosophies into the team, spring practice was shut down due to the coronavirus. Tack on a whole bunch of injuries and unforeseen circumstances and the offensive tempo hasn’t shown up that much this season.
I’ve asked Babers about halfway through the season why we haven’t seen the fast, no-huddle offense that Syracuse fans are used to seeing. He responded by citing depth issues as a big reason why the Orange offense hasn’t been pushing the tempo. That’s understandable, especially when you look at the injuries to the offensive line and the lack of experience at running back, among other issues.
That being said, ask yourself this question: Even though the 2020 Syracuse offense hasn’t looked remarkable, when has the unit looked best? The answer is when they’ve pushed the tempo, gone no-huddle, and returned to the fast offense that the Orange has run under Babers. The ball has moved well when SU pushes the pace on offense.
We haven’t seen Syracuse go up-tempo this season with much frequency. Depth is certainly a part of that. I asked Babers once again this week if he would incorporate more tempo into his offense for the final games of the season, and he once again said that the team didn’t have the depth or numbers to go fast on offense.
I think that’s a mistake in the short and long term future of the Orange. We’ve already seen what can be gained in the short-term: an offense that can move the ball down the field. Syracuse ranks dead last in the ACC in trips to the red zone with 17 this season. The conference median is 32, and the team that is closest to SU’s total is Georgia Tech with 23.
Is tempo the magic thing that’ll fix Syracuse’s offensive woes? Not necessarily. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try. The main goal of the offensive coaches on the Orange is to go fast, and they recruit for that type of style as well. In a season where there are only three games left and a guaranteed losing record is looming, this would be a great time to at least try something new (or in this case, use something like tempo that has proven to work).
There’s some young players as well that would benefit from the experience of running a faster offense as well. While the injuries and youth have been most notable on the defensive side of the ball, players like Sean Tucker, Anthony Queeley, and Cooper Lutz are seeing their first game action as starters or key players in the offense. It doesn’t help their development if the offense that Syracuse is running isn’t chugging along at a faster tempo than it has been.
We can’t forget about JaCobian Morgan as well. While it’s unlikely that he would replace Tommy DeVito as the starting quarterback going into 2021, he’s got an excellent opportunity to cement his name into the conversation for significant playing time in the future. What’s not going to help his cause is an offense that is taking its time, and letting the play clock run down. That’s not the core identity of Syracuse football under Babers.
We’ve talked a lot about the subject of hope on this website, especially when Syracuse is facing a troubling season like this one. It’s hard for fans to put into perspective the challenges this Orange team has needed to overcome in order to play at optimal efficiency on a weekly basis. What most people are doing is judging the product that is on the field, and it hasn’t looked spectacular.
I know this isn’t exactly the best barometer to read, but the reaction from social media when Syracuse has gone for its tempo offense this season has been a mixture of relief and excitement. Many people know there’s potential to be unlocked. But Syracuse hasn’t shown that no-huddle style often this year.
As I’ve mentioned, Babers has cited the lack of depth and available personnel as the biggest contribution factor to the reason why Syracuse hasn’t gone for its full-tempo offense. In the middle of the season, I would agree with that. You wouldn’t want to risk any more injuries with a large amount of games left in the future.
But with time winding down in the season and the final results all but assured, I don’t think that depth answer can justify why the Orange won’t push the pace anymore. It’s where the Syracuse offense has looked its best. If we don’t see more tempo from SU this season, that could be a major loss in terms of providing key development time for young Orange players, a possible solution to move the ball down the field, and a way for Syracuse fans to get back on board with believing in this regime.