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Syracuse football: Dino Babers’s Western Michigan Week Preview

The Orange put on a Labor Day Weekend Show for the ages. How will they follow it up?

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

The Syracuse Orange began the 2023 season with a thrashing of their sole FCS foe, and they’re looking for another dominant performance this weekend against Western Michigan.

Head Coach Dino Babers took the podium to deliver a few updates on the team and what we can expect in Week 2:

Injury Report

There’s not much new on this front from Week 1. Specialist Trebor Pena is “doubtful” for Saturday’s game, per Babers, and he wouldn’t specify the type of injury. The depth chart is mostly unchanged, with Jakob Bradford now officially elevated to the starting Right Guard position, where he played in place of the injured Joe More against Colgate.

Babers did not provide an update on More, who is now listed as the second-stringer. or Kalan Ellis, who also did not dress in uniform in the opener.

LB Stefon Thompson had a good return to the field after a long year of recovery. Thompson played 27 snaps and recorded four tackles and a half-sack, according to PFF and ESPN, respectively. The redshirt sophomore is still listed behind Leon Lowrey at one of the LB positions but could see an increased workload and a potential return to the starting lineup in the next week or two.

Dino noted his performance, as well as that of Isaiah Jones, who also missed the bulk of 2022. Jones caught two touchdown passes and had 71 receiving yards - both of which already eclipse his total from last year.

DLs Terry Lockett and Braylen Ingraham, both absent from the two-deep, also got some decent playing time.

Callouts for the Standouts

LeQuint Allen (left) and Umari Hatcher (right) led the Orange with over 100 yards in rushing and receiving, respectively.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Babers praised two other players during the Monday presser: RB LeQuint Allen and WR Umari Hatcher.

We don’t need to remind you about Allen’s hectic offseason, but based on how he played this past weekend, he’s clearly put that disruption behind him. Although he was not targeted, Allen had 16 carries for 107 yards and the first SU touchdown of the season. That performance earned him a game ball as offensive MVP, per Babers. (Marlowe Wax and Brady Denaburg got the other two.)

“You’re talking about a guy who loves Syracuse,” Babers said. “He goes out and represents it the right way. I’m telling you, he’s one of those guys, he’s rare.

“Every practice is a game (to him) ... the last guy I remember like that was Larry Fitzgerald.”

It’s not every day that you hear a comparison to one of the greatest NFL players of all time.

Umari is a bit of a different case. Several teammates noted that he had a strong camp in August, but Dino said his recent success has just as much to do with changes in his personal life:

“He’s changed his night life. Because he changed his night life, he’s changed his day life, and now he’s different during the day than he was before.”

I’m not going to assume anything there, just pointing out how that comment was made with a voice and expression that’s firm even by Dino’s standards.

Flags are Flying again...

The biggest negative from this past Saturday was an old enemy: penalties.

This is me pretending to be shocked 0_0

The Orange were the most-penalized FBS team in 2022, averaging 8.5 flags per game. SU had only seven calls go against them in game one this year, but the manner of them was nothing new. LG Chris Bleich was called for a pair of false starts in the first quarter, and other careless mistakes included an illegal formation immediately followed by an offsides, which gave Colgate their first new set of downs.

“There are certain penalties that are acceptable, and certain penalties that are not acceptable,” Babers said. “Certain penalties are just hard to get away from... but the ones we can see for sure, I want to get corrected.”

There were two calls for unnecessary roughness, which is what Dino is referring to as ‘hard to get away from.’ He referenced last year’s game at Clemson (ok, fair) and Kenny Pickett’s fake slide in the 2021 ACC Championship (which the NCAA later made a rule against) as examples of why he believes his players need to make sure they finish plays - accepting that those penalties are possibilities.

“There’s a line that’s gray there. I don’t like that, but if the guys are hitting them inbounds, then we’re just hoping that the officials will see it the right way and call it the right way.”

Specialist University?

Louisville v Syracuse
P Riley Dixon (2014)
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Some of the more underrated performances to start the year were on special teams. Denaburg was perfect in his placekicking debut, D’Marcus Adams shined with several long punt returns, and new punter Jack Stonehouse’s lone boot traveled 49 yards, well up from SU’s average of under 39 yards last season.

Babers also said that the unit did a great job preventing any kickoff returns, remembering how one may have cost them the Pinstripe Bowl back in December.

A pair of Orange alums, Riley Dixon and Nolan Cooley, are starting punters for the Broncos and Cardinals, respectively. It’s a very small sample size, but there’s reason to believe that this part of the team which struggled in recent years can have a noticeable turnaround in 2023.