Over the last three games, the high-octane Syracuse offense has generated very little output during second halves. That’s a bad habit, but it’s still better than the alternative, which would be no offense at all.
The Orange basically had the latter in their 28-9 loss to Wake Forest on Saturday. Weather and failed opportunities left the team’s offense stymied most of the night.
Hurricane Matthew rolled through Winston-Salem, N.C., over the weekend, and at 7 p.m. Eastern time (when the game kicked off), it was absolutely pouring. This was a huge disadvantage for Syracuse because the Orange want to run offensive plays in under 22 seconds.
In inclement weather, the officials need extra time to either replace the wet ball or dry it off with a towel. That slowed down the Syracuse offense considerably: The Orange were only able to run a play every 23.6 seconds. Through six games, that’s the team’s slowest pace and a whole three seconds slower than Babers’ offense was at Bowling Green last year.
Not only did the Orange offense fail to move quickly, though; the pace it established was again counterproductive. On its 14 drives, Syracuse recorded eight three-and-outs. Only three drives lasted longer than two minutes. As a result, the Orange were dominated in time of possession once more, possessing the ball for only 25:56.
This leads to problems on defense. That side of the ball for Syracuse isn’t all that talented to begin with, and in Babers’ system, the defense is exposed for upwards of 35 minutes per game.
Another problem with Syracuse’s quick pace arose Saturday night. Redshirt freshman center Colin Byrne told Syracuse.com it’s sometimes hard to identify blitzers when the offense’s primary objective is getting the ball snapped quickly.
That probably played a part in why Wake Forest sacked quarterback Eric Dungey five times. The Demon Deacons also had 11 tackles for loss, which placed the Orange in third-and-long situations all night.
If this continues, Syracuse will find it hard to score. The Orange face each of the top four defenses in the ACC over the next four games.
As much as the offense struggled — thus exposing the defense — the Orange were competitive in Saturday’s game. Up until four minutes left in the fourth quarter, it remained a one-score game, but missed opportunities prevented Syracuse from leaving Winston-Salem with a victory.
On the first punt of the game for Wake Forest, the snap sailed over the punter’s head and inside the Demon Deacons’ 5-yard line. Syracuse could have very easily tackled the punter there for a first and goal, but instead, the punter then fumbled the ball into the end zone. Somehow, Wake Forest recovered despite white Syracuse shirts surrounding the loose ball.
The Orange had to settle for two points rather than seven.
Syracuse’s defense also came up with two huge plays. First, a goal-line stand in the first quarter kept the Orange ahead 2-0. Unfortunately, Syracuse punted five plays later, and Wake Forest promptly scored a touchdown.
The Orange forced another turnover, intercepting a pass early in the third quarter at midfield, but again, Syracuse couldn’t sustain any offense. The Orange actually had minus-12 yards on that drive and punted.
The weather was certainly an issue, but a perfect climate won’t create a more opportunistic team. Syracuse must begin reeling off long drives consistently and take advantage of the few opportunities it receives if it’s going to win a conference game this season.