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Syracuse football: Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be

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Post-bye blues strike again for Dino Babers and the Orange

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 19 Syracuse at Pitt Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Within minutes of the start of the Syracuse Orange football team’s 41-3 loss to the Louisville Cardinals, I could feel it. You probably could too. This one was going to be something awful.

That didn’t mean any of us saw 41-3 coming after SU’s first drive stalled out. Or even after the Cardinals sprinted right down the field to take a 7-0 lead early on. It’s just... Syracuse has a habit of dropping a game like this under Dino Babers. And between playing at Louisville, how it started, the Lamar Jackson of it all and the fact that we were coming off a bye week, it just seemed like everything coalesced into dread very quickly.

Less than three hours later (perhaps the one positive from Saturday was the length of the game), the dust settled on what was a definitive defeat. The players did not execute. The coaches did not have this team prepared. They even tried some cutesy nonsense at the end where they attempted to hurry up and get Sean Tucker 100 yards in the final minute or two instead of over the course of the game (he only had 19 carries on the afternoon).

Unfortunately, however, none of this was necessarily a surprise for those paying attention during the Babers era.

For you see, this team has not played well coming out of a bye week in some time. The Orange are 2-6 under Babers with an extra week to prepare, and the only wins were against a hapless Duke team in 2019 and by the skin of their teeth against UNC in 2018. Beyond that, Syracuse has made a habit of not just losing after byes. They’ve been outcoached, outplayed and embarrassed. This 41-3 loss to Louisville isn’t even the worst result in a collection that also includes a 54-0 loss to Clemson in 2016 and a 30-0 loss to this same Cardinals squad just a year ago.

Despite the lack of surprise, though, we continue to ask ourselves how and why this keeps happening? What is it that makes the extra week suck the life out of this program repeatedly? Or prevents the coaching staff from drawing up something resembling an effective gameplan? Or looking at all prepared for the opponent at hand?

This isn’t to say the coaches and team fail to prepare at all coming out of byes. They clearly do, and I don’t want to just cast doubt on that when a) I don’t have any firsthand knowledge, and b) we know with about 99% certainty that they are preparing. The problem is, the prep they’re doing is poor and/or ineffective. And again, we knew within minutes here against the Cardinals what sort of outcome we were looking at. That’s damning once. We’re well beyond that now.

The quote in the headline of this piece is from John Wooden, and it’s meant to convey at least some hope here, though. Syracuse clearly got to 5-5 on the season by doing some things right, and we’ve observed numerous tweaks over the course of this campaign to show the coaching staff can make adjustments that win games.

But you’re also seeing some recurring problems that aren’t being addressed quickly now, and that should scare us with regard to making a bowl.

This defense has been a shadow of itself in recent weeks aside from the Boston College game (due to that team’s lack of offense). What was once crisp tackling isn’t anymore. We’re seeing poor decisions rear their heads. There is no passing attack to speak of at all, since Garrett Shrader’s thrown for barely over 100 combined yards in the past two games and he’s taking more sacks, too.

If he’s hurt, I’d understand. But I’d bet that’s not the case given the fact that SU had him out there for the full game here when the result was decided in the first 30 minutes. Teams have figured out something with this offense — something surely about its predictability — and that should alarm us.

It also doesn’t have to be the end of the season, though, despite the caliber of the final two opponents (top-25 NC State and Pitt). Syracuse has failed here, and can change to be better. They can better prepare for those two teams than they did in this one against Louisville. They can have a solution for the recent throwing woes. They can utilize Tucker better with the game still in the balance (how this remains an issue, I don’t know). This season hasn’t failed yet.

But if Babers and his staff don’t find a way to change and we see two more efforts like this one, that is failure. And it’ll be hard to come back from as far as this fan base is concerned, even if Babers is back for another year.