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In his weekly press conference, Dino Babers defended his decision making in Syracuse’s 40-37 overtime loss to then-No. 19 Wake Forest. Babers said he always goes with his players and “always believes that they can get things done.” The comments came after Babers accepted a third-down penalty that, if declined, would’ve forced the Demon Deacons to attempt a long field goal on fourth down and decided to attempt a two-point conversion instead of tying the game with an extra point late in the fourth quarter.
SU ultimately was called for a delay of game penalty and kicked the extra point, sending the game to overtime — where the Orange fell after Wake Forest’s A.T. Perry caught a 22-yard pass from Sam Hartman.
“The big thing with decisions (in) history and decisions at the present time is that you take the information and you go with it,” Babers said. “When you look back in history, you can always say, it’s either this or it’s that. I believed in my players, I’m fine with the decision I made.”
Here are three takeaways from Babers’ press conference ahead of Syracuse’s game against Clemson on Friday night:
Offense’s increased usage of read option
In the Wake Forest loss, SU ran the ball a season-high 58 times, led by 29 carries from quarterback Garrett Shrader and 26 from running back Sean Tucker. Throughout the game, Syracuse emphasized the read option — where the quarterback decides whether or not he wants to hand off to the running back or keep it himself.
The Orange have been running the ball more this season, mainly due to having Tucker — the nation’s leader in all-purpose yards — and a faster, more physical quarterback in Shrader. Babers said Syracuse doesn’t plan for Shrader to have close to 30 rushing attempts in a game, but the quarterback makes those decisions, whether it be on options or on scrambles when the pocket collapses.
Shrader said postgame that he wants to be a pass-first quarterback, but he went 15-for-27 against Wake Forest, and had more rushing yards (178) than passing yards (160). The offensive balance between running and passing has changed since Babers swapped Tommy DeVito for Shrader at quarterback, and after No. 1 wide receiver Taj Harris entered the transfer portal after the Florida State game.
“All quarterbacks want to throw the ball on every snap, all receivers want to catch the ball on every snap and all running backs want to run the ball on every snap,” Babers said. “We’re always going to try to throw the ball. We need to be balanced as an offense, and we’ll always work towards that, but until you get there, we need to do some things.”
Babers said when it comes to read option plays, the running back and quarterback need to have a good “feel for each other.” He said that regardless of the quarterback (DeVito or Shrader) or the running back (Tucker or backup Cooper Lutz) there has been a good “feel” with body language on the option plays.
“It’s something that we work a lot on, and it’s basically almost a wishbone quarterback type-option thing, even though we’re not in that type of offense and we’re not in that type of formation,” Babers said.
Wake Forest decisions
After Tucker’s 28-yard touchdown reception with 21 seconds left in regulation cut SU’s deficit to one, Babers wanted to attempt a two-point conversion. But he said Tucker’s prolonged celebration and the offense’s struggles to get on the field quickly caused the delay of the game penalty, which forced an extra point attempt instead.
Usually, Babers said, Syracuse will play for “one” to tie the game and force overtime. But the manner in which Tucker scored gave the Orange “a huge momentum swing,” he said. At that point, Babers wanted to go for two and a win over a ranked team at home. In cases where it’s unclear whether SU will go for one or two points, Babers said players are told to “freeze” and look at the sidelines for the signal. But ultimately, there wasn’t a “great sense of urgency,” Babers said, and Syracuse didn’t get the snap off in time.
In the second quarter, Babers made the questionable decision of accepting a third-down holding penalty that repeated the down. He said Wake Forest kicker Nick Sciba — who hasn’t missed a field goal all season — looked so good in warmups that he wanted to try to push the Demon Deacons out of field goal range by accepting the hold. Instead, Hartman completed a pass over the middle, giving Wake Forest a first down.
With time ticking down in the half, WF ran down the clock and Babers didn’t use any of his available timeouts to give Syracuse a shot at scoring before the half. Instead, Hartman scored on a one-yard run with just 48 seconds remaining to cut Wake Forest’s deficit to four before halftime.
Then in the second half, the Orange were faced with a 4th-and-2, and Babers decided to send out kicker Andre Szmyt for the 45-yard field goal instead of going for it. But Szmyt missed, and Syracuse’s drive ended without points. SU ultimately lost by three points.
“I know there’s going to be questions on the decisions and all that stuff,” Babers said. “But please understand that when it comes to decisions on football games, I’m going to always go with my players, and I always believe that they can get things done, and sometimes I ask them and sometimes they give me responses, and sometimes that filters into my decisions, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Looking to Clemson
Following two down-to-the-wire losses to open Atlantic Coast Conference play, Syracuse will host Clemson on Friday night in the Carrier Dome. The Tigers are just 3-2, and it will be the first time SU has played an unranked Clemson team since SU joined the conference in 2013.
The Tigers lost to then-No. 5 George 10-3 in week one, and they fell in double overtime at NC State two weeks ago. In their last game against Boston College, the Tigers squeaked out a 19-13 home win. Clemson’s offense has been the main struggling point — the unit ranks last in the ACC in points per game (21.2) and second-to-last in passing offense (176.8 yards per game, only above Syracuse’s 167.8).
Babers acknowledged that Clemon’s offense is not the same unit that torched Syracuse for 47 points last year in South Carolina. The Tigers’ quarterback last year, Trevor Lawrence, was taken first overall in the NFL draft, and sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei hasn’t produced the same numbers that Lawrence did in his three years as starter. So far this season, Uiagalelei is 10th in the ACC in passing yards and 15th in touchdown passes.
But even with the offense’s early-season struggles, Babers emphasized Clemson’s talents has and how they still have the best personnel in the ACC.
“They’ve got about 150 stars over there, they’re a top-ranked recruiting class all the time … and now you’re saying that they’re not good. That’s the Clemson Tigers, c’mon, sheesh!” Babers said.
The post Dino Babers talks Wake Forest decisions, offensive balance ahead of Clemson game appeared first on The Daily Orange.