|Posted on October 20, 2017 at 10:50 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
It is no secret that the Syracuse Orange football program has struggled in recent history against the Top-25 ranked teams in the country from season to season.
The upper echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) does not include the Orange on the lists of many.
When the Clemson's, Virginia Tech's, and Miami's show up on the schedule for Syracuse, the expectation of losses is higher than the notion that they will win.
But ask the Orange student-athletes, staff, or head coach Dino Babers if they care.
"Faith -- Belief without evidence". That was the statement made by Babers prior to his first game on the sideline with the Orange. He asked people to have faith, to believe he could help change the program for the better, even though there was no proof of that before the start of the 2016 football season and Syracuse fans had grown tired and somewhat accustomed to seeing losses show up more than victories.
Babers offered that in the beginning at Syracuse, the student-athletes were 50-50 in those that had faith in his plan versus those that were skeptical.
He shared that after the win this season over the reigning champion and at-the-time-undefeated Clemson Tigers, the faith on the team rose to the 90s, aiding in converting those that have been somewhat skeptical.
In less than two years coaching the Orange, Babers has led the team to two wins over top-25 nationally-ranked teams, one in each of his first two campaigns with the team, taking down 17th-ranked Virginia Tech in his first season and 2nd-ranked Clemson this season.
The last time Syracuse was ranked in the top 25 themselves was 16 years ago, in 2001.
Underdog has become synonymous with Syracuse, but the Orange are working to turn the corner.
Along with defeating a top-2 ranked team that is coming off a national championship, Syracuse has already matched their wins in seven games this season (4) to what they had all of last season through 12 games.
They are in control of their bowl eligibility, needing at least two victories in their final five regular season games.
Tell them they do not belong on the field with another team, and they will show you determination.
Tell them they are levels below who they are facing, and they will show you the film against Clemson.
Tell them they are the expected losers on the road versus the Miami Hurricanes, and they will meet you on the field at 3:30pmET dressed and ready to go.
So what makes the Orange dangerous on the road despite not winning a game away from the Carrier Dome yet this season?
Well, this team is trending up.
Babers had repeatedly offered the notion that the fourth game of the second season is where things begin to click, the defense catches up with the offense, and the team as a whole experiences more success.
The fourth game of the second season for Babers at Syracuse was a road match-up with the LSU Tigers, a nine-point loss by the Orange, 35-26.
But, despite the loss, Syracuse fought back from down 21-3 on the road early on in the third quarter to within two points of LSU, 28-26, with 5:40 left in the game.
The offense showed resolve, the defense grew as the game progressed, and special teams placed the Tigers in undesirable field position on more than one occasion.
Syracuse came together, more than ever before in recent years against the so-called upper-echelon teams, like the Southeastern Conference (SEC)'s LSU. The loss column may have been checked, but cohesiveness among the three phases, mental focus, and a refusal to lay down and roll over were checked off in Syracuse's box as well.
In their next road game of this season, the Orange faced a 13-0 deficit to the N.C. State Wolfpack after the first quarter and were behind 26-7 at halftime. The Orange would respond by outscoring the Wolfpack 18-7 in the second half, where their defense kept the Wolfpack scoreless in the third quarter, giving up one score in the final 30 minutes of the game.
Syracuse has essentially knocked on the door of winning a road game, but has not kicked the door down.
In these two close contests, they were a second-half surging team.
Since then, the Orange have had two more games under their belt, albeit at home.
Against the Pittsburgh Panthers, Syracuse held the lead in the first quarter, elevated to a tie after losing the lead in the second quarter, regained the lead again in the third quarter, and held onto it into the fourth quarter to ultimately win the contest.
Versus Clemson, Syracuse took the lead in the first quarter and withstood four ties from Clemson, advancing to a three-point victory in this match-up.
They now head back on the road more mature.
A defense that last season allowed 38.6 points per game is now giving up approximately two less touchdowns per contest, at 24.3 points per game, this season.
Quarterback Eric Dungey has been healthy and leading the Orange through more than half the regular season, throwing three times as many touchdowns (12) as interceptions (4). With 2,080 passing yards through seven games, Dungey is averaging just shy of 300 passing yards per game.
As a true dual-threat quarterback, Dungey is leading the team through seven games in carries (101), rushing yards (386), and rushing touchdowns ( 8 ), accounting for eight of Syracuse's 11 total rushing touchdowns.
Orange wide receivers Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips are in the top-3 in the country in receptions, Ishmael first in the nation with 62 receptions and Philips currently at third with 56 receptions.
They have combined to attain 1,371 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions through seven games. Ishmael's 802 receiving yards lands him at third overall in the country.
The team is averaging 144.7 rushing yards per game through the first seven games of the season and the Syracuse offensive line held back Clemson's potential future National Football League (NFL) defensive linemen.
Miami may be undefeated and at home, but they will certainly have their hands full with Syracuse.
If the Orange play at full tilt for all 60 minutes of this match-up, the Hurricanes will have to play near perfect football, which the Orange have not allowed to happen recently.
That rollover team that some expect Syracuse to be may just end up rolling over yet another top-25 foe.
You may read that statement and consider that outcome impossible, yet was that not the case against Virginia Tech and even moreso versus Clemson?