Libonati: Despite clear struggles, Syracuse football made progress this season

first_imgBefore the season, Dino Babers justified his calm on the field by saying he gives players his energy during the week. Saturday, that all changed.After a questionable late hit call on SU’s Evan Foster, Babers’ headset swung to the ground and his hat swept back on his head. Eventually his hat came off, suffering the same fate as the headset. His gloves and vest followed. He called a timeout and motioned for the referee to come over to him.The outburst, uncharacteristic for Babers, proved the game’s importance. In SU’s most do-or-die game of the year, the Orange recorded its best offensive output, with a backup quarterback no less. In past seasons, the Orange has struggled in the back half of seasons. It lost eight of its last nine games in 2015 and its last five in 2014. While it struggled again, losing its last four games in 2016, the team showed more fight than former head coach Scott Shafer’s teams ever did.It’s emblematic of a shift in culture. Coaches talk about changing culture, including SU men’s soccer coach Ian McIntyre and field hockey coach Ange Bradley. Both have turned around their respective programs. Often, measuring a change like that is intangible. But Saturday showed SU is headed in the right direction.“I just feel like a lot of the mindset around here has changed a lot. Just a lot of guys holding people more accountable and it’s a more of a winning culture,” Syracuse junior linebacker Parris Bennett said. “It’s a lot more guys believing we can win every game and people going in with the mindset we should really win this game. Not just try to keep it close and make it an upset.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThat’s not to say Syracuse football has been turned around, because it clearly hasn’t been yet. SU won’t be going to a bowl game for the third straight year. Eric Dungey’s health remains in doubt. Coming into the season, it was arguably the second-biggest topic for Syracuse and will be the most-talked about subject for the rest of the offseason.SU’s precision has struggled all year. The inability to execute consistently cost SU losses at Wake Forest and in the Carrier Dome against North Carolina State. Even beyond that, wins and losses, the most basic measure of a season, haven’t improved.But in the absence of some of its best players, SU has had others step up. Colin Byrne played well enough when he stepped in for Jason Emerich. SU took well to Babers’ offense, penciling new records offensively.Daivon Ellison proved to be starter-worthy material at safety in place of the Orange’s best defensive player, Antwan Cordy. Bennett and Zaire Franklin accounted for 211 tackles this year on 870 plays by opponents. Last year (Bennett played only eight games), those two accounted for just 125 on 847 snaps. Together, the three players formed a core that each had 90 tackles or more. Last year, no defensive player had more than 90 tackles.SU beat Virginia Tech and fought in the second half against Pittsburgh, both current Top 25 teams.“Normally, it looks bad one year,” Babers said of young players having to play more this season, “But the negatives from one year can be the blessings the next year.”Saturday, SU couldn’t close the talent gap with the Panthers. It struggled to get itself going to the extent it needed to in the first half. But it was also just the storm before the calm.For the next nine months, SU will go relatively silent. It won’t have games to worry about. Babers can give his team and recruiting all of his energy. Next year, Babers will be held to his promise of a relentless defense and a breakneck-paced offense. But for now, SU’s pushed the program forward, however marginally.“It’s going to get better,” Babers said after Saturday’s loss. “It’s going to get better with recruiting … We’ll bring in a fresh group of young people and we’ll put them with the underbelly of our team that we are developing and we are going to get better.”Chris Libonati is an Asst. Sports Editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] or @ChrisLibonati. Comments Published on November 27, 2016 at 10:55 pm Contact Chris: [email protected] | @ChrisLibonati Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*