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Syracuse football: Mr. Babers, I Don’t Feel So Good

That sinking feeling is pretty familiar.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

To be honest, I’d fooled myself into thinking the Syracuse Orange football team could make something interesting happen early on vs. the NC State Wolfpack. Not because they looked good, because they most certainly did not. But because stupid things seemed to be happening and that felt like a recipe for success.

Of course, the second quarter occurred, all the stupid thing started happening to us, and that was that. 7-0 was 28-7 in a matter of six minutes of game time, and as usual under Dino Babers, Syracuse just sort of packed it in from there aside from a second half field goal and a garbage time TD run from Garrett Shrader.

Another big opportunity for a bowl trip. Another big ‘L’ for the Orange.

So now ‘Cuse is at 5-6 on the year with two straight blowout losses and one of the top scoring offenses in the country heading to the Dome next week. We want to have faith and belief that this team can gut something out here. But there’s compelling evidence that they won’t:

  • Pitt just put up 48 on Virginia on Saturday
  • Syracuse has allowed 35 points or more in three of the last four games
  • The Orange have scored just 41 points total over the last three games
  • Opponents have clearly figured something out with this team on both sides of the ball
  • Most importantly: This coaching staff has no idea what to do about it — or at least, no ability to do anything to stop the bleeding here

The cracks were obvious against Virginia Tech, but you’ll take a comeback win and try not to rain on the parade. And the following week, a win over BC really started showcasing what was wrong on both sides. But with BC down two QBs and Sean Tucker running roughshod over the Eagles’ defense, you take the win and potentially ignore the fact that the only good things were limited to three plays (hell, I even implored us to do so).

In hindsight, though, the last two or three games have really exposed some problems.

Shrader’s just 23-of-52 for 174 yards passing dating back to the start of the Boston College game. We’ve lost Chris Elmore seeming for the season, and same goes for Carlos Vettorello. Shrader’s not running as effectively, and you can blame some of that on the injuries above. But some of the issues are just a talent level thing. This team simply can’t pass the football.

Despite that, they spent most of the first quarter throwing the ball vs. NC State. Tucker got just 13 carries on the entire game, yet still topped 100 yards just the same. What these most recent games have proven were entirely predictable. While Sterlin Gilbert was at one point commended for building a gameplan around Shrader’s strengths, that honeymoon is over. With Shrader struggling, he has no answers and actively avoids giving the ball to the best player on the field. That alone is grounds for his ouster. There is no gameplan beyond Shrader’s improvisation, when he can, as was obvious over a month ago but defenses only recently adjusted to.

On defense, injuries have also taken their toll. But this team is prone to giving up big plays and the safeties are getting exploited in one-on-one matchups. Offenses have gotten wise to this too and are willing to take risks against them, since the secondary is atypically not generating turnovers this year. The Orange have just six takeaways all season. The aggressive play by the front six has made up for it for much of the year — just not in recent games.

So now what? Honestly, this looks like a team that’s been cornered at this point. I’d love to be wrong, but barring a miracle, there’s no secret sauce with a week to go that suddenly seals over the cracks we’ve been seeing grow. And with unforced errors like under-utilizing Tucker and forcing the offense to depend on Shrader, on top of the unforced injuries, this staff does seem incapable of the turnaround needed to get win No. 6.

There will be plenty of discussion if and when the Orange limp to a 5-7 finish next week. But for now, we’ll try to exhibit some hope, even if we’re pretty sure how this story wraps up. It’s just tough to avoid that sinking feeling that this season ends poorly at this point. We’ve been in this situation before, after all.