SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Three straight weeks Syracuse has had the game come down to the final play. No matter the outcome, that is enough to give anyone high blood pressure, let alone a division one football coach.
With that said, I can understand someone like Dino Babers not wanting to defend any decision he has made to those (you and me) who have not been in his position before. The job is stressful. Winning is hard. And a head coach’s job is thankless when you are not winning.
#OrangeNation was up in arms Saturday with a couple of decisions Dino made vs. Wake Forest. Babers opted to accept a penalty towards the end of the first half and push Wake back instead of having them attempt a 51-yard field goal. Wake Forest converted the 3rd and 23 and subsequently scored a TD before halftime.
Also, in the 4th quarter, Syracuse attempted a 45-yard field goal of their own, instead of the aggressive move of going for it. Andre Szmyt missed the attempt and the Demon Deacons marched down the field and took the lead.
Now, Syracuse was able to tie the game and force overtime, but it is a series of plays that fans look back on and believe if they went differently SU could have won the game.
Dino is not here for that.
“You can second guess all the time. The really cool thing about decisions is: is when a decision has to be made, you have to make one and you have to own it. You don’t get to sit back on Monday and decide whether it was right or wrong like some of you guys do. We don’t get that opportunity. I understand you guys get to do that stuff. But we needed a decision at that point at that time,” Babers said.
I get where Dino is coming from, but these points are not coming hours or days later. Some of them are happening in the moment. Look no further than the broadcast Saturday. Kirk Morrison, who was in the booth Saturday, said during the game that he believes Dino “would like to have that one back.” He pointed out he would have been good with Nick Scriba kicking the long field goal. His broadcast partner, Beth Mowins, then correctly pointed out that Syracuse would also have more time left in the half to try and score rather than getting the ball back with under a minute in the first half.
It is not a situation that requires much thought, but it is a reason for criticism of Dino Babers’ clock management skills, or lack thereof.
When it comes to his management of the quarterback situation, Dino has handled that as well as he could have. The switch to Garrett Shrader has been what the offense needed. And while the offense still is not dominating through the air, Shrader’s legs have been more than enough to make this offense explosive – whether or not a run was called in the huddle.
“Some of those runs aren’t designed, some of those are (Shrader) taking off. We haven’t designed 30 runs for him to go,” Babers said.
“We’re always going to try and throw the ball. We need to be balanced as an offense. We’ll always work towards that, but until you get there, you need to do some things that are working,” Babers added.
Shrader has rushed for a combined 315 yards over the last two games. That includes his 178-yard effort last week, which is the second most by an Orange quarterback in program history. He only trails Eric Dungey who ran for 200 vs. Western Michigan in 2018.
“We understand he is going to make a play back there whether it’s with his arm or with his legs. As long as he makes plays, that is why he is there,” said wide receiver Courtney Jackson, who caught five balls for 64 yards vs. Wake.
Dino suggested Monday they have been throwing the ball better over the last two games. As for the numbers, Syracuse’s completion percentage, attempts and yardage are nearly the same. What has improved is the number of big plays. Against Rutgers and Florida State, SU managed just two plays over 20 yards. Last week, Syracuse doubled that. The Shrader-effect is becoming noticeable. If this maintains, results in the win column could follow.
“We’re trending the right way. That is a good way to put it but we are just not finishing. We have to keep getting better. We know we are going to be in dog fights the rest of the year. It builds character. We haven’t gotten the results we want but as we keep going, we’ll find a way to finish,” Shrader said.
“They know when they play bad and they know when they play good. In games like the last three games that we have played, they understand how close the game (was) and the inches of things… This is character building time. It’s the tough times when you grow. I’ll tell you what, we’re sharpening ourselves up for something special,” Babers added.
Syracuse had that something special happen when they defeated then second-ranked Clemson. This year’s Clemson Tigers aren’t ranked in the AP poll and barely find themselves in the coaches’ poll, but a win isn’t guaranteed and a lopsided loss isn’t out of the cards. The moment for preparing the weapon is over. They will need to have it ready to strike Friday night on the national stage.