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Syracuse football: Just win, baby

Style points be damned, this team is now 5-4.

Boston College v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Over the course of Dino Babers’s tenure as Syracuse Orange head football coach, we’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the “how” of things. Mostly because the “what” of things has rarely been clear-cut.

Early on, we wanted to score points even if we lost. Then we wanted to score points and win. Then, for a brief period, we wanted to trample opponents. From 2019 on, we’ve just been hoping for something respectable on the field again, even if there’s nothing “fast” about this offense any longer.

I’ve personally spent a lot of this season focused on the “how’ once more, as Syracuse has lost in the final minute three different times, dropped a winnable game by 10, and eked out two separate last-minute victories. Because of the emotional mess and stress those sorts of games create, you get lost in a lot of how you got there instead of the final result.

Well, Saturday’s 21-6 win over the Boston College Eagles was the potential cure for that. It was ugly for long stretches. Disappointing for others. And yet, a stellar third quarter saw Syracuse score 21 unanswered points and then coast the rest of the way. The defense held up their end of the bargain and then some, and deserve a lot of credit there. But SU scoring really just came down to three big plays: A 51-yard Sean Tucker TD, a 48-yard Garrett Shrader TD and a Courtney Jackson punt return TD.

The box score shows what a weird game it was otherwise. Shrader completed just 5-of-14 passes for 65 yards and had one reception the entire second half. SU had just 16 first downs. They were 4-of-13 on third down, and 0-for-2 on fourth. And yet: SYRACUSE WON BY 15 POINTS. Without a garbage time score to pad the total, either. It was just a win, despite a rough game by everyone on offense not named Sean Tucker.

So at this point a quote from one notable Syracuse alum, “Just win, baby,” needs to be the new lens by which I (and maybe “we”) view the rest of this season.

While style points were once a measure utilized to evaluate this program under Babers, I think attaching things to style points (accidentally or on purpose) could’ve been one of Babers’s largest missteps as coach. People expected one thing. When they got another, they were upset, as is human nature.

But now, all we really care about is winning football games. Sure, I’d like to avoid a stretch of five straight games decided in the final minute. I can only take so much stress after all, and I’m sure you feel the same, win or lose. Yet, this game was still ugly. It just happened to come to its conclusion in less dramatic fashion. That’s fine! Even if it’s not #OrangeIsTheNewFast. Even if it’s not overly impressive. Even if there are some clear notes we can and should take away around how opponents gameplan to stop Shrader. The most important thing here is that we won the game, and that should be the thing that most affects our enjoyment of it.

Since we know what this team is at this point, the same filter can be applied to the rest of the season, too. I’d love to win out. But more realistically, SU probably doesn’t. There’s a chance the Orange go bowling, but there’s also a real one in which they don’t. We won’t be happy about the losses. But we can and should be thrilled about the wins, especially because the next one means an unexpected postseason trip.

I’m not saying don’t look for improvement or ask needed questions like “is this sustainable?” That should factor into how you follow this team because it’s natural to want more than just a passable effort. The shift I’m endorsing for myself — and maybe the wider Orange fan base as well — is to change the way I’m watching and enjoying the games in real time.

There will be time to armchair quarterback every game and this whole season, and we’ll be sure to do that as we always have. But keeping the in-game focus primarily on the most important question, “did we win or lose?” is the easiest path to maximizing what you’ll get out of watching each Saturday.

After the upcoming bye, we’ll have three more chances to nab the win that gets Syracuse to a bowl game. That’s three more chances to win by any means necessary, even if it means being happy with a 9-7 win where we gain 100 yards the whole afternoon. I never thought I’d say this with Babers as coach, but I’m fine with it at this point. Let’s just get to the postseason, and sort out the rest some other time.

When we look back on this season in a few years, the only thing we’ll care about is whether we made a bowl or not. So let’s just lean into that narrative now, and hope we get the surprisingly fun ending this weird year deserves.