SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — To say it has been a wild week for Syracuse is a bit of an understatement. It is not every week a team loses in heartbreaking fashion on a last second field goal, on play right before SAID FG that shouldn’t have happened because of a missed holding call, and then a few days later, arguably the team’s best player announces he is leaving the program.
That is a lot to process. Are you doing okay Syracuse fans?
Listen, the news of Taj Harris transferring is shocking, but it is not totally out of the blue. The offense has moved to more of a running game. Last week against Florida State, Syracuse ran the ball 63% of the time. The week before vs. Liberty, in what is now the final game of Harris’ SU-career, Dino Babers’ group dialed up a run play a whopping 78% of the time.
Forrest Gump is even like, “That is a lot of running.” (I hope you read that in a Forrest voice.) And others are taking notice. Just ask Tommy DeVito, who hasn’t played since Dino told him about the shift in philosophy two hours before the Liberty game.
“If you (look back) at camp, it was a totally different offense. Sean Tucker, the offensive line and the rest of the running backs have made the run game work. So, that is what we transitioned with and that is what we are rolling with,” DeVito told the media Tuesday.
But according to Dino, this box of chocolates where fans know what they are going to get isn’t necessarily the reason guys like Taj are entering the transfer portal.
“They can make their own decisions. They’re making the decisions that they feel are best for them. We need to honor that and that is just a sign of the times,” Dino said in his weekly press conference Monday.
And while there is a ton of truth in that statement, the midseason exits of Harris and Jarevon Howard is alarming. As pointed out by Stephen Baily of 247 Sports during Babers’ press conference, Babers mentioned earlier this season that Harris is a guy who could break receiving records at SU. Now, he’s getting SEC offers. No matter the times, that does not breed confidence in the program.
But what does breed confidence for the head coach are the guys who are still here. Especially the younger players who are showing growth five games into the season.
That’s the exact advice Dino gave both Tommy DeVito and Garrett Shrader a few weeks ago. Make the decision easy. And it appears Shrader has done so. Or at least enough to win Dino’s confidence. He has taken command of the starting quarterback job.
“We want to play the best guys no matter what. We have to be honest to the family. And usually, it’s pretty obvious who the best guys are. Every (player’s) role is to try and make it as clear as possible and not to leave it up to a choice. When you leave it up to a choice, the choice might be wrong. I don’t think there is a disconnect between the older (guys) and the younger (guys), I just think we have a very talented younger group,” Babers said.
Now, the passing game is still a work in progress but the rushing numbers speak for themselves – both Garrett’s and the overall team’s.
In last week’s loss at Florida State, Syracuse had two 100-yard rushing efforts for the first time since last season’s finale at Notre Dame. Ironically, both of those games resulted in a loss for the Orange.
I know it was only FSU, and before last weekend they had zero wins to speak of, but scoring 30 points on the road in the ACC is not something that can be taken lightly. That is why we are going to see more of number 16 when Wake Forest comes to town this weekend.
“I think the biggest thing, any time you have a football team, is you want to try and put your best pieces forward. You are going to operate with whoever is operating the best,” Babers said.
But as Shrader points out, there is still plenty to work on.
“The biggest things is we want to go execute. We want to move the sticks, minimize the three-and-outs and score points ultimately. I think we need to be more efficient in the passing game. Whether that’s running things a little bit differently than the way we are now or – I definitely missed some throws Saturday that we have to absolutely hit. So, a little bit of combined of those two things,” Shrader said.
If SU can do this, and in the second half down in Tallahassee Shrader did, then Syracuse will look more like the team they were a couple of seasons ago when Eric Dungey was lighting up opponents en route to a ten-win season. For the most part, players have bought in. They realize running the rock might be their best shot at beating teams this season.
“We are playing to the strength of Garrett. I don’t mind blocking for (the team). I want to win. That’s the main goal. We want to win,” said redshirt sophomore wide receiver Anthony Queeley.
Even Tommy gets it.
“It’s not all about you. It’s not all about one person. You have to do what is best for the best for the team and what is working right now. What is working right now is the run. And that is what we are rolling with,” DeVito said.
And with his future with SU potentially on the line, Babers will continue to roll with what has the best shot at putting points on the board and, for his sake, Ws in the win column.