Opponent Outlook: Head coach Dino Babers has Syracuse on the rise

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

It's a new-look Syracuse offense and a defense that has question marks that will take on Notre Dame's football team Saturday at The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

New head coach Dino Babers has the Orange at 2-2 after last Saturday's victory over Connecticut.

Stephen Bailey, Syracuse beat writer for the Syracuse Post-Standard, gives some insight into what the 1-3 Irish might expect from their next challenge.

• What does moving a home game to The Meadowlands do for the Syracuse program?

It provides the athletic department with money. That's really the bottom line with these MetLife games. The fanbase and coaching staff would, for the most part, prefer hosting premier opponents in the Carrier Dome. Dino Babers has publicly advocated for future Power-5 home non-conference games to take place in Central New York. On a separate note, I do think some players enjoy the experience of playing in an NFL stadium.

• What has new head coach Dino Babers brought to Syracuse?

Babers has brought an injection of life into a program that had become the laughingstock of the ACC. His hurry-up spread offense has produced immediate chunks of points and yards, and while both systems will take time to implement (the Orange is running the Tampa 2 on defense), Babers' track record provides good reason for optimism. SU has also seen an early bump in recruiting, in large part due to that offensive system, which Babers has modeled around what Art Briles taught him (while an assistant) at Baylor.

• What makes quarterback Eric Dungey (averaging 342 yards a game passing) and the Syracuse passing game so effective?

Dungey is a capable quarterback, despite only being a sophomore, who can make plays with both his arm and legs. He hasn't appeared to have the same zip on the ball as he did last year, but he can still make all the throws needed in the offense. Most of those tosses have gone to redshirt senior wideout Amba Etta-Tawo, a graduate transfer from Maryland. Etta-Tawo leads the nation in receiver yards (40 receptions, 706 yards, 5 TDs) through four weeks as a burner who dominates at the point of the catch. The no-huddle scheme has also forced opposing defenses to fall back into base coverages, providing Dungey easier reads as drives have progressed.

• What are Syracuse's vulnerable areas?

The trenches and secondary come to mind first. Syracuse was without three starters on the offensive line last week, playing a group that entered the contest with a combined eight starts (only one of which came before this season). The defensive line started a pair of true freshmen at defensive end and has struggled to maintain contain against zone-read concepts. Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Chris Slayton is the anchor there and has carried the unit. In the secondary, SU lost two starters for the year in Week 2. Depth and experience are legitimate issues there as well.

• What has surprised you about this team so far?

Honestly, Etta-Tawo has been incredible. He's become the focal point of the passing game and absolutely abused All-AAC corner Jamar Summers at Connecticut on Saturday. Part of his production is a result of the system and tempo SU plays with, but he's still exceeded expectations more than any player I've covered since I got on the beat in 2013. Other than that, most players have produced close to what was expected. Sophomore safety Daivon Ellison has been a bright spot in a banged-up secondary.

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers, left, and South Florida head coach Willie Taggart, right, talk before an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)