Syracuse offensive preview: things fall apart and tend to fall apart
People had high hopes for the Dino Babers offense in Syracuse. I was one of them. It all fell apart last season and did not recover in 2021. This team bears little resemblance to the fast and powerful passing offense Babers was supposed to deliver.
The generally fast The Orangemen are only ranked 68th for games per game, slipping under seventy games per game from their 80+ average to start Babers’ tenure. Traditionally aggressive, Babers (described as going “to the throat” as a game caller a few years ago) attempted a total of five fourth downs this year. The team converted two, leaving Syracuse to rank in the hundreds in both stats. As well as being bad overall, this attack isn’t good in the red zone, resulting in a team struggling to score the ball consistently.
The running game was as advertised this year, particularly with Mississippi State’s transfer Garrett Shrader (# 16) under center, but the passing game fell off a cliff. Shrader also has an absurd combination of hair and beard that we have to take a second to recognize.
A regulation football field is 120 meters long. Syracuse throws for one hundred and thirty-four yards per game. This is a complete reversal of how Babers’ teams played before Syracuse.
To put it more clearly: The Orangemen are running fewer plays per game than Army and throwing the ball for fewer yards per game than Clemson. Dino tried to bring a high school offense from Texas to Syracuse and ended up coaching like Jim Harbaugh. Honestly, Harbaugh goes further in fourth.
This is a broken offense led by a coach who came to preach that he was going to bring the Syracuse offense back in the future. Aside from a ten-win season fading more and more in the rearview mirror, we’re in grade six and Babers hasn’t finished above 0.500 yet. On the one hand, Syracuse being able to win by running the ball and relying on defense is a sign that a coaching staff is looking for ways to win when Plan A doesn’t work. On the other hand, having to rely on such winning games can be seen as proof that this program lacks identity.
The typical Babers offense doesn’t consist of so many games; it’s condensed enough to be taught without physical playbook. The offense focuses on running the ball inside using patterns such as inside zone, iso and power, then distributes the ball using a mix of deep shots, screen passes and (unlike most other branches of this offense) some air raid concepts.
Babers has started to mix in the outer zone tracks over the years and will occasionally go under the center, but it still comes pretty close to a Briles Baylor offense outside of having a “mesh” in the book. Game.
How quarterback Garrett Shrader (the new starter after injury to Tommy Devito) felt on offense after score thirty points on a dismal Seminole defense?
âJust distribute the things and let us make the partsâ¦ This is the most important thing. When you condense the offense and try to execute basic stuff like in the first quarter, you see it – these basic stuff – they kind of shut us down. But as soon as we started spreading things and making plays, it got different people touching the ball. Different execution schemes. All that. We have seen what this offense has the potential to be.
Shrader is right that Syracuse has extended the racing game compared to what we’ve seen in recent years and it’s paying off. Games such as wham (where a tight end or a fullback essentially blocks a defensive tackle), the counter-trey, and the outside zone don’t require the Oranges’ offensive line to blast players off the line of scrimmage like some of the Babers basic runs.
Syracuse’s offensive line can’t really get the guys out of the line of scrimmage at the best of times, but they’re good at blocking on the run and can reach second tier to open holes for talented RB Sean Tucker ( # 34).
This translates into a racing game in Syracuse struggling to give up tackles to lose, which is never a good thing against this Tigers front, but generates explosive play if they come back to the line of scrimmage. .
It’s a weird thing to be a first team that isn’t good in the red zone or at third base, but Babers has succeeded in upstate New York. Shrader just isn’t a precise enough passer to squeeze the ball through narrow windows when the pitch narrows and Syracuse isn’t a running team powerful enough to hammer the ball for touchdowns. Syracuse is making wide open passes out of the running action and little else in the passing game right now.
The lack of a consistent running game leaves the Orange, and Shrader and the offensive line in particular, exposed in the third and long run. Shrader is a good runner on direct snapshots, scrambling, or in the options game.
When Shrader has a clean pocket and is ready to play, he has the strength in his arms to push the ball down the field. The man is incredibly dangerous on bootlegs, but when placed third and long and asked to step back, Shrader looks like a running back invited to play QB. I have never seen him tasked with doing a third reading when he passes, and it is rare to see even a second.
Syracuse’s offensive line was one of the worst in the country last year and while things have improved somewhat, passing protection remains a major weakness. Venables has an aggressive mind and Syracuse doesn’t have the downline passing game to punish teams for sending pressure.
Shrader has weapons to throw the ball. Tucker is a great receiver off the backfield, Taj Harris (# 3) has been productive for years and rookie (# 85) Courtney Jackson is emerging as a playmaker in space.
Here Syracuse is running an interesting game where Tucker and the offensive line claim they are going to perform full slip protection before Tucker flees below as the ending chases Shrader up. It’s a screen but the only player to let go to block the field is the tackle (# 52) from Tucker’s side.
Babers has some creative passing plays in the playbook, it’s just that Shrader is unable to consistently pass without some sort of built-in running action, and the offensive line isn’t helping anyone.
Shrader doesn’t expect receivers to open well and looks to run early if he doesn’t see anyone opening. This approach leads to few turnovers but also a lot of games that end in scrambles to nowhere.
I would expect Venables to keep a spy on Shrader for pretty much the entire game. If you can force Shrader to pass the ball consistently, this offense will be bypassed. It’s a sad situation for a coach who came on promising a gun offense, but we’re six years into Babers’ tenure and Syracuse looks more undocked on offense than ever.