Turning around a football program doesn’t take one game, one summer or even one season, so it’s extremely important for Syracuse to keep an even keel and let the process work itself out.
Yet, early into Dino Babers’ coaching tenure, his fast, high-tempo offense isn’t yielding all the results it should.
Through five games, the biggest problem with Syracuse is the lack of scoring after the first quarter. The Orange had 13 points in what was perhaps the most ridiculous first 15 minutes of a game in recent memory against Notre Dame on Saturday. The two teams combined for 36 points and over 400 yards of offense in just the first quarter alone.
Before the 17-minute mark, Syracuse had 20 points, yet over the final 43 minutes, the Orange mustered just two more scoring drives (13 points).
The same thing happened in Syracuse’s two previous games, indicating a bad trend. The Orange scored 17 and 14 points in the first quarter against South Florida and Connecticut, respectively, the two previous weeks. After those first 15 minutes, the Bulls held the Orange to just three points. Against the Huskies, the Syracuse offense scored only 10 points in the final three quarters (one of the Orange touchdowns was a defensive score).
It was particularly troubling Syracuse couldn’t continue moving the ball against Notre Dame on Saturday. The Fighting Irish fired their defensive coordinator just a week before the game, yet the Orange scored just six points in the second half. Duke outscored Syracuse against Notre Dame.
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly why this has occurred for three straight weeks, but Babers tried to offer his own explanation last week before the Notre Dame loss.
“It comes down to being consistently good,” Babers told Syracuse.com.
“It comes down to halftime adjustments on their side and us being able to make halftime adjustments, digest that and take it to the field. … There’s times we need to change concepts to keep the point production going. They have the concepts, even if they didn’t practice the concepts. We’ll get better at that as we grow. That’s been the biggest difference between first halves and second half.”
If that’s Babers’ roundabout way of saying his coaching staff needs to be better at adjusting during halftime, he would be correct. Excluding the game against Colgate, Syracuse has been outscored in the second half 71-27.
Quick, high-tempo offenses are supposed to get better and wear down defenses as the game rolls along. Instead, the Orange defense is getting tired because the offense can’t stay on the field. Even when the offense is rolling, Syracuse is losing the time of possession battle and exposing the defense every single week.
Coming into the season, everyone knew how badly the Orange played defense in 2015. Syracuse finished last year ranked 92nd in points allowed and 100th in yards allowed. Babers should have realized that if his fast-paced offense failed to record first downs, the defense would get even worse. Syracuse has yielded at least 45 points in three of its five games and is ranked 122nd out of 128 FBS schools in total defense.
Although the improvement might be minimal, possessing the ball longer could help the defense, and more halftime adjustments on offense might keep the opposing defense on its heels.
Again, no one should expect Babers’ system to be perfectly installed in the first season, but it would be nice to see the fast-paced offense score more points in the second halves during the second half of the schedule.