Dino Babers is in his second year at Syracuse and his #OrangeIsTheNewFast movement is moving along a lot slower than I think he’d like. Syracuse is known for having a big time offense under Babers but his offense hasn’t been able to fully transition under his watch. Syracuse likes to go fast but they’re not a team that shies away from hitting big plays. There issues seem to stem from a lack of consistency and I’m not sure if Babers has the personnel to fix that yet.
The quarterback position is always the most important spot in a Air Raid/Spread attack. Babers inherited Eric Dungey when he took over the job and most (including me) felt that he was extremely lucky to have a guy that he could develop. However, Dungey has stayed pretty stagnant over his two years in the new system. He’s still completing just about 60% of his passes and his decision making is not much better tan it was as a freshman. Although he’s a solid runner, he’s been getting by on being a tough guy that has very high potential. The issue, of course, is that he hasn’t reached that potential in three years.
Dungey might see some success against Louisville because of the pace of the offense. Louisville struggled all game against Wake Forest when they decided to go much faster than they usually do. Peter Sirmon should have his team prepared for the pace this time around, but there’s no guarantee that they will be able to execute like he might like. Dungey has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long but when he is on, he can be very good. I think he’s at his best when he’s getting the ball out of his hand quickly and allowing his receivers to make plays for him. In my opinion, he just doesn’t protect the ball well enough to do the things that Babers likes to do. But with his running ability you would expect them to get him on the move more often than they do and design plays for him to throw on the run instead of him just freelancing like he does.
The Orange running game is the true issue for the offense. Dontae Strickland is the starter at running back and for the second straight year, he’s averaging under four yards per carry. Strickland is a pretty talented back with good size and speed but he just rarely has anywhere to go when he gets the ball. You would expect the running lanes to be there with them being so pass happy but that just hasn’t been the case over the last two years. Strickland does make the most of it when he has space, however. He’s had some nice big play runs when they’ve been there including a 43 yard touchdown run last week.
For the second straight year I’m wondering why Babers doesn’t use Moe Neal more often. Neal is used as a “change of pace” type of guy even though he’s averaging slightly above five yards per carry for his career. Syracuse needs as much speed on the field as possible for their offense to be at its best but they don’t utilize Neal nearly enough to do so. It also just makes more sense to play a guy that has more of a big play potential when you have a quarterback that can run the read option. It provides a real punishment for the defense if you give to much attention to the quarterback. While Strickland can hit a big run when given the chance, Neal can take it to the house.
Syracuse has two of the top receivers in the country for the second straight year. Steve Ishmael is a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist and Ervin Phillips is on pace for just under 1,000 yards for the season. Ishmael lines up outside and runs a lot of go routes and deep ins while Phillips is a slot guy that they use on slants and screens. Phillips had a ridiculous game earlier in the year against NC State when he had 17 catches. He’s also had his best games this year against the best competition. Phillips isn’t isn’t quite as dynamic as his numbers show but he does do a pretty good job of getting open in the middle of the field. I’d compare him to Hunter Renfrow in the way that he can get open but won’t do all that much after the catch. Louisville hasn’t had a lot of success against skilled slot receivers so that might not matter much in this game.
Ishmael will be a key player in this game as he has been targeted 145 times on the year and Babers will continue to call his number even if you seem to stop it. He has 100 yards in 7 games this year and only Clemson and Miami slowed him down at all this year. I’ve followed Ishmael pretty closely during his career because UofL had a chance to land him as a recruit. His improvement in his route running has been really great to watch. He has really good body control and knows how to do the little things to gain separation. Louisville all but shut down the outside receivers for Virginia last week and they will have another big test this week.
The Syracuse offensive line is the glaring weakness for this offense. They don’t do a very good job of opening holes for the running game and they leave Dungey running for his life a lot. Simple stunts by a four man rush have ended up as sacks because the a guard ended up chasing a guy well out of his area. Dungey ends up throwing the ball away a lot because blitzers aren’t picked up and the play gets blown up right at the snap. Syracuse is pretty young up the middle and it shows a lot throughout a game. Louisville played their best defensive game of the season against Virginia and made a solid offensive line look putrid. They should be able to do the same this week.