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Syracuse football: Whose cake is this?

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Welcome back (once again) to a popular Dino Babers-ism.

Clemson v Syracuse Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

By halftime of Saturday’s Syracuse Orange football game, I was ready to write about there was no other choice but to fire Dino Babers.

After all, Syracuse had just managed to botch yet another late-half drive with poor clock and personnel management, en route to a missed field goal that sent the Orange into the break down 19-13 when a 20-19 lead was well within reach. And when I say “well within reach,” I mean having the ball at the one-yard line with two timeouts, yet squandering that in new and frustrating ways I’m not sure I’ve witnessed before.

You know what happened in the second half, of course. Syracuse got more aggressive, Garrett Shrader led two separate late touchdowns drives, and the Orange came back from nine points down to win, 41-36. It was the first win for Babers at Syracuse while trailing at the half. This feels notable in light of the still valid and numerous complaints about coaching halfway through this game (Babers also addressed some of it after the game).

It also brings back that cake-baking Dino-ism.

Among the many metaphors Babers used to trot out (ah, simpler times), the cake-baking one is among my favorites. Mostly because it’s so adaptable. In fact, I referenced it for a completely different article following the week two loss to Rutgers this year. But now I have a different question:

Whose cake is this anymore?

Because I think the points made back in September around Babers still stand. Much of what happens from a coaching perspective each weekend is over- or under-thought. There are glaring issues that get in the way of winning football games. There should be more progress than there has been. Even Dino seems to believe as much.

BUT... at the same time, the second half saw a team that was far more aggressive on offense, and overall we saw new and interesting wrinkles on the day. That doesn’t excuse what transpired late in the second quarter, and you could argue the Orange wouldn’t have needed the late touchdown had coaching managed that situation better to begin with. Still, Syracuse was 4-for-4 on fourth down for the day, and did bring the sort of aggression we’ve been clamoring for.

The difference, of course, is the play of Garrett Shrader. While not perfect (he did complete fewer than 50% of his throws vs. Virginia Tech, after all), his style of play facilitates a level of aggression that stands to benefit Babers and Sterlin Gilbert. We’ve seen it for the last four weeks now, where Shrader has been at the helm for late-game drives to score critical points for Syracuse. Along with the two late touchdowns against Virginia Tech, he was the catalyst to get SU within a field goal of Clemson last Friday, and the reason they were in range late when Andre Szmyt missed the game-tying try. You can give him (and Sean Tucker) credit for sticking around vs. Florida State and Wake Forest as well.

So while we see a more aggressive approach on the field and perhaps a renewed sense of optimism about the Orange’s fortunes, you start to wonder who’s really baked this cake we’re now gladly eating? Is it Babers, who is responsible for the various coaching issues that keep games perhaps tighter than they otherwise would be? Or does the cake come courtesy of Shrader, who’s been able to revitalize a stagnant offense into something interesting and effective — even if not always efficient?

Because to me, his play at quarterback is the main difference between winning and losing right now. The play-calling being freed up to utilize his strengths helps, of course. But the ability to execute on those ideas still lie with him, and he’s delivering.

We haven’t seen a ton of game-winning drives at Syracuse in recent years, under any QB. Shrader’s managed to repeatedly will the Orange into real decisive moments of football in the waning minutes of games. That’s not to short-change Tucker’s fantastic season or the defense’s great play most weeks (perhaps this one excepted). But it’s Shrader who’s steering this ship and making up for coaching deficiencies, while also potentially helping Babers & Co. get out of their own way on offense. Or at least just simplifying things to the point of “just let Shrader cook” — or bake, as if we want to stay on theme.

Now, we know how putting your gameplan in one player goes, and if this staff wants to live by that sword, they’ll potentially die by it as well. For those still questioning Babers, though (and we all should be), we do have to wonder whether the component parts on this team would all fit together better if someone else is mixing the batter.

Does that matter if we’re winning? It should, to be honest. And as we know from the last month of football, the line between a win and a loss has been razor-thin. You want the person in charge to have you on the right side more often than not, though.