Dino Babers searches for improvements in Week 2 from stagnant SU offense

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One game into an unusual season, the 2020 Syracuse offense looked much more like the 2019 version than 2018. 

Despite the scoreline being close for the first three quarters, the Orange (0-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) “shot themselves in the foot” too many times in their 31-6 season-opening loss to No. 18 North Carolina (1-0, 1-0), Babers said in his press conference Monday. SU struggled in every single facet of offense, and with Pittsburgh’s dominant defensive line looming next week, Babers insisted that the most growth in performances occurs between weeks 1 and 2. The Orange will need to make plenty of improvements across the board if they want to beat Pittsburgh, as linemakers have listed them 20.5-point underdogs. 

Babers doesn’t like to critique the performances of individual players without first getting a chance to watch the film back on the game, he said after Saturday’s game. Once he did watch the tape, Babers excused Tommy DeVito’s inefficient performance, chalking it up to rust and a lack of practice time with the Orange’s top receiving options. He cited four drops by the wide receivers and a few miscommunications as a cause of the Orange having the lowest offensive success rate of any Atlantic Coast Conference team that played last week. 

Those issues occurred because there was no spring practice and most of the early summer workouts were in pods that didn’t enable the passing unit to work entirely together, Babers said. He’s expecting improvements offensively headed into Week 2 with Pittsburgh, and implied that he’ll wait to get a larger sample size before making any potential lineup changes. Even though he mentioned some guys were banged up and could be limited in practice, SU’s starting Week 2 depth chart was the same as the one released ahead of the UNC game. 

“I think that everybody improves greatly from their first game to the second game,” Babers said. 

Even though the offensive line struggled as a unit, Babers defended left guard Chris Elmore when asked how the converted tight end/full back transitioned to a position he hadn’t played before. Syracuse’s offensive line allowed a 30% stuff rate and had 2.4 offensive line yards per run, both worst in the ACC of teams that played last weekend.

“For someone to play that position at that level vs. the defensive linemen he was playing, he played extremely well,” Babers said. “He was one of the guys who I thought played winning football.”

But the running backs might be an even bigger concern, and Babers hinted at that in Monday’s press conference. 

Jawhar Jordan and Markenzy Pierre shared the rushing workload for SU, and both generated almost nothing at the second level. They combined for 0.4 second level yards per rush, much worse than SU’s metrics from last season and a concerning number. 

“There was too much penetration,” Babers said. “There were some holes, and sometimes we hit them and sometimes we didn’t.”

Babers admitted that the playbook is a bit smaller than usual due to the truncated offseason and two new coordinators gaining experience. But he didn’t say it’s positive or negative. They have enough in their playbook to execute the offense — it’s just been the execution that faltered in Saturday’s defeat. 

As the season goes, the book grows,” Babers said. 

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