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Syracuse football: Dino Babers’s UConn week preview

He unfortunately had some bad news to share about two starters

NCAA Football: Louisville at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It was refreshing to see the Syracuse Orange win convincingly against Louisville to start the year. Now that’s in the rearview mirror and the team is preparing to travel to UConn on Saturday. Before that, head coach Dino Babers filled us in on the state of his squad:

Injury Report

The worst-case scenario for two important ‘Cuse starters is now reality. FB Chris Elmore and LB Stefon Thompson are out for the season after sustaining lower-body injuries Saturday night. Babers said that he sat down with both players on Monday and had a lengthy discussion.

“Both those guys have unbelievable leadership skills,” Babers said. “We expect them to continue to be leaders on and off the football field.”

It’s a real punch in the gut for both of them: Elmore because this year was supposed to be a proper sendoff after he missed time down the stretch last season, and Thompson because of the significant steps he’s taken and how locked in he sounded when I recently spoke with him. Babers added that both are welcome to return in 2023, but I have to imagine Rhino’s eligibility to do so is still up in the air. Meanwhile, DB Jason Simmons does not have a timetable to return. Dino had previously hoped that he’d be ready for the opener.

Depth Chart Update

As always, Steve has the full breakdown. The only major change so far is LB Derek McDonald sliding into Thompson’s starting role. Babers was adamant that he does not expect any single player to replace Thompson’s production:

“His run game is just as good as his pass protection,” Babers said. “He does not get his due (credit).”

Steve Linton is still not listed on the two-deep after doing an admirable job in relief Saturday, with Anwar Sparrow rising to backup status instead.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 01 Syracuse Spring Game Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thoughts on Underclassmen Stepping Up

There were several times where younger Syracuse players were thrust into service. Carlos Del Rio-Wilson had his first two snaps in the 1st quarter, when Garrett Shrader was briefly removed after a pair of hard hits. LeQuint Allen got in the game as well during the Tucker injury-scare. McDonald had a clutch interception that set up great field position, and Linton provided the encore with his own forced turnover on the following drive. Even TE Maximilian Mang, who had an early target but no receptions, did what he could to cover for Elmore. Babers acknowledged all of their contributions - but he isn’t ready to just hand anyone more playing time yet.

“Whoever’s consistently good, not occasionally great, will get the opportunity to go out there the most,” Babers said.

“It’s cool that they were great for a moment, but I’d rather them be consistent over a long period of time.”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Louisville at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Overall though, Babers was pleased with his entire team’s performance.

“I couldn’t ask for more for an opening day, especially against that opponent.”

Expectations versus UConn

Dino made it clear that despite the Huskies’ rough stretch over the last few years, the Orange are not taking them lightly now. He considers this next matchup a critical part of the season:

“The biggest improvement for a football team is between the first and second game,” Babers said. “So many times, they’re watching other people, they’re watching their past selves. Now they’re watching themselves in the moment.”

He also singled out Garrett Williams’s performance as what he expects from the rest of the team on a regular basis. Williams let his man go too early on a trick pass play but recovered and managed to chase him down. SU then ended up stuffing Louisville on 4th and goal.

“You watch that drive, and they don’t get in because somebody wasn’t going to give up on the play,” Babers said. “That’s what we’re looking for. Guys playing full speed, snap to whistle, every snap. Don’t worry about the outcome. Don’t think whether you’re going to catch the guy or not; just chase him.”

Game Number 2 for the ‘Cuse is Saturday at 7 in East Hartford, Connecticut.