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Syracuse football 2016: The wrong way, but faster!

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It’s the Max Power way.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Syracuse heads into this weekend at 4-5 and needing to win two of its final three games in order to reach bowl eligibility, just like NC State. This is essentially an elimination game for both, as the Cuse still have FSU and Pitt, while State has Miami and UNC.

But while the records are the same, the programs are in much different places. The Orange are in their first year under head coach Dino Babers, who has already delivered one upset top-25 victory (31-17 over Virginia Tech) and has matched the school’s win total from 2015.

The Orange have had a decent year while going through the inevitable issues that plague a change in coaching staffs and systems. A bowl game appearance would merely be a bonus.

Syracuse S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
Yds/Rush
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 Offense 61 5.1 (102) 4.4 (65) 6.1 (107)
2016 Offense 62 5.6 (73) 3.4 (117) 7.6 (49)

True to his word, Babers has upped the pace of play in Syracuse; the Orange have averaged over 80 snaps from scrimmage per game, an increase of about 20 from last season. They’ve run 740 plays in nine games after running 751 plays all of 2015.

Naturally, Syracuse’s yardage output this season is way up. You get 20 more snaps per game, your total yardage average is gonna go up, even if your offense isn’t as good. Though this Syracuse offense is no worse than it was a year ago, and in some raw per-play categories, quite a bit better.

Now they’re more of a team of extremes, for better or worse. Syracuse averages about 44 pass attempts per game, and behind the maturation of sophomore quarterback Eric Dungey—not to mention the emergence of Maryland grad transfer wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo—they’ve established a tough passing attack.

On the other hand, they’re really struggling to run the ball behind a group of offensive line starters with limited experience. Up front, the Orange go sophomore, sophomore, freshman, freshman, junior from left to right. Without any exceptional talent to speak of at running back, the results there have been predictable.

The Orange have not rushed for 200 yards in a game, nor have they cracked 4.0 yards per carry in a game. (eep) Their leading rusher, Dontae Strickland, has only 456 yards on 3.8 per run.

This is why Dungey’s health is so important for Syracuse this week and beyond, and his status remains uncertain after he was knocked out of the game against Clemson last weekend. Dungey has a history of head injuries during his brief college career, unfortunately.

If he can’t go, then the Orange passing game becomes more of an unknown, though likely not to an extent that would derail the offense entirely.

Syracuse S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
Yds/Rush
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 Defense 70 6.2 (106) 4.8 (94) 7.9 (97)
2016 Defense 87 6.4 (116) 4.9 (99) 8.2 (109)

Defense wasn’t a strength in Scott Shafer’s last season, and that has not changed in Babers’ debut campaign. The things that hurt Syracuse most obviously last season—breakdowns in the secondary—have been a problem throughout 2016 as well.

If NC State can’t reverse its recent fortunes and put up at least 25+ on this defense, then you may as well assume it’s not going to happen again for the Wolfpack offense this year.