Look, I’ll admit I’m out of ideas on how to frame these losses after the Syracuse Orange football team suffered a third straight defeat by just three points. Because, really, what are we even looking at anymore?
Over the last four games, Syracuse has managed to win (once) or lose (three times) by exactly three points and yet tell us very little in the process about just how good they are as a group in the process. Same goes for the coaches, who manage to put the Orange in position to repeatedly win games against more talented teams. And yet... they’ve lost three straight winnable games to ACC competition.
For as much as they potentially deserve credit for being seconds away from a 6-1 start this year despite obvious flaws, they’re not 6-1. They’re 3-4, with chances of a bowl game slipping away quickly despite a very good defense and one of the country’s best running backs, Sean Tucker.
What we know is that this is very much one of “those” seasons, but we still don’t know why that is.
Is Syracuse in every game because they’re well-coached to a point and stay in games despite lacking talent? Are they poorly coached in such a way that the staff stops talent from reaching their full potential? Or are they horse you can’t make drink after being led to water? I don’t know who “they” is here, admittedly, between the players and the coach.
Without rehashing the entirety of SU’s final drive against Clemson on Friday night, you see a team with a quarterback that can’t throw managing to move the ball downfield enough to get into scoring range. But THEN, on third and two, calling a timeout instead of rushing to the line to get Tucker another carry and a first down.
The staff deserves credit for getting Tucker on campus and basing a lot of the play-calling around him at this point in the season. But also questions for ultimately settling for a long field from Szmyt after Tucker was stopped short on third down — a third down that they probably should’ve just run a quick play during instead of giving Clemson time to regroup and actively prepare for the obvious Tucker handoff.
And then there’s what to do with Garrett Shrader. While he ‘s shown himself able to improvise and create plays out of nothing, he’s also shown himself unable to make basic throws. The Eric Dungey comparisons have existed for Shrader because of running abilty, but Dungey was a quarterback that ran while also having a good arm and finding receivers on both basic and more complex routes. Shrader is a runner playing QB, who throws the ball well every so often but will do most of his work on short, stationary routes.
On the one hand, you could ask why he’s still in the game once Clemson begs Syracuse to throw while stacking the box against Tucker and you have a player on the bench (Tommy DeVito) that can actually throw the football. On the other, bringing in DeVito cold is a gamble, and for most poor decisions Shrader made, there’s another random and interesting one that worked.
How much does all of that “YOLO” offense really matter, though, if it’s not winning you football games — just getting you close to doing so? And how much of that is on the coaching staff versus the QB? I don’t have an answer. I’m honestly just as confused as everyone else through seven games. Syracuse is a flawed team that could be 6-1. Instead, they’re a flawed team that’s 3-4. These are the extremes of possible outcomes this year. I’d rather at least something in the middle so we could feel okay.
Instead, this is some sort of karmic torment for miracle Sweet 16 runs or the 2011 Toledo game. Based on how this defense plays well and the offense plays well late, we know next week could very well be more of the same.
If they keep losing like this, is that enough to keep Dino Babers around? I honestly don’t think so. But also don’t have a firm read on the size of the buyout Syracuse would have to pay. There’s also the matter of whether firing Dino actually improves Orange football by any real measure over the next 2-3 years.
So honestly, I don’t know what to do with this. Syracuse is clearly better than last year, yet hardly has more to show for it so far. That’s a knock on the coaches for sure. But given how luck hasn’t been on our side of late, does that pendulum swing back the other way for the rest of the year?
For all of our collective sake, I certainly hope so.