ACC Spotlight: Syracuse Orange

This was a crazy week in college football. Looking at the schedule, there were no games featuring a ranked team versus another ranked team. Sounds boring, huh? Not so fast my friend. Not so fast. This ended up being one of the more interesting weekends in college football this season. Upsets galore everywhere you looked. However, no upset was bigger than Syracuse’s win over defending national champion, Clemson Tigers. Dino Babers’ crew got it done and earned this week’s ACC Spotlight here on Inside The ACC.

Dino Babers isn’t your typical coach. He reminds me more of a college professor whose research is on the verge of a major breakthrough. The guy that not everybody completely understands what he’s saying, but it doesn’t matter because he knows what he’s talking about; and he’s confident in his research. Well, one of those breakthroughs just occurred; and now everybody sees what he was talking about. As previously mentioned, Babers’ guys defeated Clemson in exciting fashion at home in front of a loud Carrier Dome crowd.

After the game, Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey asked the reporters in the media press conference, “Quick show of hands. Who thought we were going to win tonight?” Nobody raised their hands. “Nobody believes in us except us.”

How did they do it? First, the Orange defense looked to be the more imposing men in orange on this night. They held the Tigers to half their normal rushing average and limited Clemson in the passing game. On third downs, Syracuse held Clemson to an 18% conversion rate, well below their average rate of 46%. Then, they dealt a huge blow to the Tigers when they knocked out quarterback Kelly Bryant with a concussion. That was a huge moment in the game that Clemson was unable to overcome.

However, it wasn’t just the Orange defense. Dungey and the offense had a little something to say as well against a Clemson defense that many folks think is the best unit in the nation. Clemson came in only allowing 13 points-per-game, good for first in the ACC. Syracuse managed to put up 27 points. The Tigers only allowed 107 yards rushing per game, but the Orange reeled off 162 yards on the ground. Same story in the passing game as Dungey threw for 278 yards against a defense that was only allowing 187 yards-per-game. Dungey threw three touchdowns and also added in 61 yards rushing to add to his big night.

This year’s Syracuse team is showing the improvement that Babers was hoping to see in year two. Earlier this summer at the ACC media days he talked about how when he’s rebuilt programs before, the light usually comes on for the players during the second season right about the time we find ourselves sitting now. He was right.

On offense, the Orange are the 5th ranked team in the ACC in total offense with an average of 460 yards per game. That’s good for 2nd in the ACC in passing. The Syracuse offense has also shown the capability this year for making big plays as they are currently 2nd in the ACC with 114 plays that have gained 10+ yards. That has helped them improve their scoring which is now at 31 points-per-game compared to last year when they scored 25 points-per-game.

The defense has also been a factor in the Orange’s success to date. Last season they were last in the ACC, allowing 39 points-per-game. This season they have cut that number to 24 points-per-game, which means they’re basically holding teams to two touchdowns less per game. They’re the most improved defense in the ACC with that statistic, and I would venture to say one of the most improved in the nation in this category.

What does this win do for Syracuse? At the very least it gives Babers’ team a shot of confidence that could propel it to its first bowl game since the 2013 Texas Bowl. At this point in the season the Orange have already matched their win total and ACC win total from 2016. Syracuse has not won more than two games in the ACC since winning four in its first season in the conference in 2013. Babers has this team trending in the right direction in year two of his tenure.

He said it best after the game, “This is truly one of the moments that you coach for. This is really special. This is big.” Big indeed, Coach Babers. Big indeed.

Follow me on Twitter @jeffgberg and follow @InsideTheACC for more great Atlantic Coast Conference coverage and content.

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