Syracuse’s Babers says program is trending up


The Associated Press

SYRACUSE — Dino Babers has watched his winning percentage as a head coach drop nearly 6 percent during his first year at Syracuse. He’s still adamant the program is headed in the right direction, even after a lopsided loss on Senior Day.

“I think they’ve written the introduction, this senior class,” Babers said Monday, two days after a 45-14 home loss to Florida State, which is up two notches this week to No. 15 in the AP Top 25 . “I think this program is trending up.”

Syracuse (4-7, 2-5 ACC) was trending big-time five weeks ago after Babers gave a stirring postgame speech after the Orange upset then-No. 17 Virginia Tech in the Carrier Dome. That win was followed by another, at Boston College, before reality returned.

Syracuse has now lost three straight, outscored by 100 points, also beaten by No. 4 Clemson (54-0) and N.C. State (35-20) during the late-season swoon.

Before Saturday’s game, the school handed out bobbleheads honoring former Orange All-America Floyd Little, one in a long line of stellar tailbacks the university is renowned for — from Jim Brown to Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis to Little to Larry Csonka, and so on. Then, with its offensive line banged-up and starting quarterback Eric Dungey out for the second straight game, Syracuse was outgained 654-233 and its run game was stopped again in its tracks, managing 37 yards on 35 carries.

Syracuse enters the final week of its regular season ranked 122nd in rushing (ahead of only six other teams), averaging 109.7 yards per game and 2.99 yards per carry, a telltale statistic for the team’s scoring woes.

Even with Dungey putting up big yardage numbers earlier in the season, the Orange’s up-tempo attack has had a difficult time scoring — Syracuse ranks 112th, averaging 22.5 points. Before he was hurt in early November against Clemson, the Orange averaged just over eight points in the second half of seven games against FBS teams, failing to score in six of 14 quarters after halftime.

“The key to any football game is being able to run the football and being able to stop the run on the other side,” Babers said. “When you can do those things, you can always be consistent. You can write it down, it’s never going to change.”

Before the opening kick on Saturday, Florida State passed the eye test, especially on defense. The Seminoles had seven players on the line 280 or bigger, and 5-10 freshman Levonta Taylor was the only player in the secondary under 6 feet.

Recruiting that sort of lineup is foremost on the mind of Babers, now 41-23 as a head coach.

“It’s been my most challenging year, mainly because of the process and making sure everyone understands how difficult this was,” Babers said. “A lot of guys are not playing the positions they were recruited for. As this process moves forward and we start to bring more personnel in, I think it’s only going to get better, faster. It takes time.

“We’re going to be back to where we need to be. We’re trying to build this to last so that it never breaks down again.”

Dungey, sidelined by a vicious first-quarter hit to the shoulder and head at Clemson, and backup Zack Mahoney are the only ones listed this week on the depth chart for Pitt. Babers said Mahoney likely will be the starter and reiterated that he did not know if Dungey had received results of further tests regarding his injury.

By Paul Wager

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