After last week’s loss to Rutgers, it was clear something needed to change for the Syracuse Orange — especially on offense. And while scoring 62 points against Albany is certainly different from the lackluster scoring performances to start the 2021 football season, it’s hard to tell what we can really learn from the game.
So is this a reset of what we know about the team? Or a false start on the road to the same place we would’ve been otherwise, just with a one-week blip of hope inspired by an outsized offensive effort?
Because in the hours after the win, I’m still torn.
While the offense looked great, how much of that greatness can be replicated? Albany sent the house against a porous line, and got burned with regularity by both Tommy DeVito and Garrett Shrader. Sean Tucker also did whatever he wanted en route an impressive day, despite the team trying different line configurations and not really opening the playbook up much. They didn’t have to in a blowout win. But given what we’ve seen from Sterlin Gilbert so far, it’s tough to know if there’s more to reveal or if this was it, and it just worked against an over-matched opponent.
On the other hand, it does seem tough to score 62 points against any team without at least some improvement over last week’s failures. Chief among them was a reliance on the run game that was reassuring to see. And the success on the ground helped open things up through the air as well.
That doesn’t work against every non-Albany team, obviously. Tucker can’t rack up 10.2 yards per carry each weekend, as fun as that would be. But even half that keeps a defense on its toes and forces them to put a greater emphasis on stopping the ground game. A lack of run game late in the Rutgers loss is at least part of what derailed Syracuse’s chances at a win in the fourth quarter. So if we’re actually committing to the run going forward (like we did vs. Ohio)), this is a positive development that we can take some solace in.
The lingering question about this offense coming out of this game, though, is whether a strong rushing attack can set up the pass against other teams. Because even in the win over Ohio, that wasn’t really the case.
Against Albany, Syracuse had matchup advantages they wouldn’t have otherwise — both in terms of speed and size — and they weren’t punished as much for allowing pressure as they would’ve been against an FBS squad. We also don’t know how who exactly will be under center going forward, even if we can guess it’s probably Tommy DeVito based on what we didn’t see from Garrett Shrader. Each has elements of his game that work, and elements that don’t. But can either take advantage of opportunities Tucker and the run game create? And can we actually see something consistent from the passing attack when we haven’t yet through three games?
All of this is why it’s hard to figure out what to make of this game. FCS opponents rarely show anything for an FBS team, and that’s true here for the Orange. However, we sort of needed this game to tell us something about what’s next for SU — in terms of play-calling, quarterback play and approach.
We didn’t get much on the first two, and the second potentially has one takeaway depending on how much you want to read into it.
On the first drive, Syracuse sent out the field goal unit on fourth and three, and was met with a chorus of boos. This is perhaps an overreaction, but also understandable for a fan base rightfully infuriated by this staff’s lack of aggression of late. Dino Babers called a timeout, the offense wound up on the field, and the drive concluded with a touchdown. SU was off to the races from there.
While there’s a chance that this was just Dino testing the Albany coaching staff early, it could also showcase a change of approach going forward for the Orange after what seemed like a season-plus of coaching “scared” to some extent. We can debate whether Babers cared about the boos on the initial decision, but he certainly heard them.
If all we get is a change in philosophy — back to the original concept Babers arrived with — from this game, it’s at least a step in the right direction. Even if not a full reset of what to expect from this hot-and-cold offense.