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Head coach Dino Babers’ words from Monday don’t match his in-game actions on the sideline on Saturday.
Babers said his offense is misfiring but isn’t far from clicking, even though Syracuse has the lowest success rate in all of NCAA FBS football.
He won’t use the word ‘struggling’ to describe his offense or quarterback Tommy DeVito, despite the offensive line allowing 14 sacks in two games and pulling DeVito for backup Rex Culpepper on the final possessions Saturday.
Babers may not want to acknowledge that he gave up with more than four minutes to go in Syracuse’s (0-2, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) 21-10 loss to No. 25 Pittsburgh (2-0, 1-0). But he did. The Orange ran a draw play on 3rd-and-11 from their own 19-yard-line in the final quarter, and Jawhar Jordan fumbled the ball away. They then punted on SU’s next possession, a 4th-and-6 from its own 41-yard line, with seven minutes to go.
After a failed SU 4th-down conversion on the next drive, Babers opted not to use his timeouts on Pitt’s first or second down runs, both of which went for four yards. The Panthers converted the third down run, and Babers decided to bring all three timeouts back with him to the locker room, where they can’t be used upon completion of the game.
“I was going to use timeouts after the third down stop,” Babers said. “I had two choices. Either use them after every single play, which a lot of people believed I should’ve. Or to save timeouts on what we had to accomplish, which was a touchdown, a two-point conversion, an onside kick and then a long field goal.”
Babers said he was saving them for the offense, but when the offense did have the ball, he wasn’t aggressively seeking points with his up-tempo playcalling. Considering that Babers has built his offense around playing fast and snapping the ball quickly, it’s puzzling that he would save his timeouts for a possession that never came.
The move sends an even more concerning message about his belief in his team, which has been weak offensively through two weeks.
I was going to use timeouts after the third down stop; I had two choices. Either use them after every single play, which a lot of people believed I should’ve. Or to save timeouts on what we had to accomplish.
Dino Babers, Syracuse football head coach
The head coach allowed the Panthers to bleed more than two minutes off the clock late in the game. Once the Panthers had the first down, there were two more Pittsburgh runs, and two more moments where Babers could have used his timeouts. He didn’t.
The decision against using the timeouts drew ire from Scott Hanson, a former SU football player and current host of the RedZone channel on NFL Network. Hanson referenced the Orange’s decision to let the clock run out when the Dallas Cowboys erased a nine-point deficit in the game’s final few minutes against the Atlanta Falcons, which was capped off by a miraculous onside kick recovery.
I have to be very careful about how I word this…..
But no football team, no coach, should EVER give up in an 11 point game w 4 min left.
— Scott Hanson (@ScottHanson) September 19, 2020
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Hanson is right to ask questions. Babers’ decisions down the stretch indicated he didn’t believe they could move the ball into scoring position twice, which sends the wrong message to a team that has had zero success offensively after posting less than 210 yards in each of its first two games.
“I was going to let the time eat on the first two plays, call timeout after the third down stop so they couldn’t run any time on the punt team, get the punt and then have two timeouts for the offense to do something that’s very difficult to do,” Babers said.
Even before neglecting to use the timeouts, Babers’ fourth-quarter play calling and decision-making served as the true estimate of where he feels the Orange’s offense currently sits after two games. Culpepper completed a pass on 3rd-and-12 to Anthony Queeley, cutting the yards needed on 4th down in half.
For an offense running out of possessions, Syracuse had to go for it. Instead, there was no deliberation. Culpepper trotted off the field. Punter Nolan Cooney jogged on. Throwing well short of the sticks on 3rd down to punt the next play can be acceptable in the first or second quarter. But this was the fourth.
Despite an inability to establish the run the entire afternoon, DeVito handed off to Jordan earlier in the game, on third down and long. A punt was about the best case scenario from that play call.
“You have to have faith,” Babers said. “Just because you see some bad things happen as a play caller, if you start thinking ‘this is going to happen bad, you can’t do this,’ before you know it, you’re not doing anything, and you’re really simple.”
Syracuse wasn’t losing by 20 or more. Its offense had been unsuccessful on all but one play on Saturday, but an 11-point deficit in college football is a game far from decided. Babers instead decided that he had seen enough from his offense and that the game was over. An 11-point loss was acceptable.
No words he says can change that.
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