Dino Babers reaffirms the confidence of Syracuse University football fans, asking for "Belief Without Evidence" that Orange can turn the disappointment of their third campaign into something special with a win in 72 years.
Syracuse is a week away from the end of the season with a 1:10 overall record and a 9-1 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference for worst performance since 2005 and just the second campaign since 1948 with just one win.
Babers, who has completed his fifth season at the helm, said during his final weekly Zoom conference on Nov. 30th that he believes the young, understaffed unit will change during a season marked from the start by key injuries and the COVID 19 was out of whack, the pandemic has become insurmountable. The program is just two years after a 10-3 season under Babers in 2018.
"I think we're going to go through this for a reason and turn a negative into a positive," Babers said. "The thing I want is for you to remember the negatives when the positives happen so you can make up for the jiggle and feel a lot better about some of the things that are going on. When these people hang out and academically, they shouldn't be doing anything other than being better. "
Syracuse apparently lost a significant contribution at every turn early in the season and ended up playing without quarterback Tommy DeVito for most of the year due to a leg injury. High school star defensive players Andre Cisco and Trill Williams opted for the NFL Draft after an injury at the end of the season and signed up for the NFL Draft, to highlight just a few of the key staff who are responsible for much of the Lost year.
This prompted Babers and Co. to start an unplanned youth movement that played most of the schedule with 72 percent of its cadre within the first two years of its eligibility. This is the fourth highest mark among the FBS teams. The Orange was also forced to set a program record of six newcomers on defensive for their last two games after entering the season with a previous high of four.
Several aspiring players showed their respective opportunities, notably Redshirt newbie Garrett Williams, real newbie Sean Tucker and a young linebacker crew.
Williams became the first player to score a touchdown after an interception by Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, the alleged top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and was one of Pro Football Focus College's top-rated cover corners each week.
Tucker ended the year with a 101-yard rushing performance against runner-up Notre Dame, whose running defense took fourth place nationwide without a single 100-yard rusher coming into play. The 5-foot-10, 202-pound halfback ended at 626 rushing yards to 137 carries, making it the third highest total length by a freshman in school history. He was the second freshman for SU, behind Joe Morris, the all-time leading rusher who produced at least three 100-yard excursions on the ground.
The Orange also spotted an emerging linebacker corps. Sophomore Mikel Jones led the ACC with four interceptions and forced three fiddles to expedite the SU defense, which forced 24 food stalls to run the FBS. Jones also reached the team's best 69 tackles, shining alongside newbie linebacker Stefon Thompson.
The young SU players and babers all hope to continue gaining momentum with a full off-season after the COVID-19 pandemic broke off just a few training sessions last spring under new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and defensive coordinator Tony White in the first year.
"We have to put on weight," said Garrett Williams. “We are really too small in many positions because we are all young. We've only been in the weight room for a year, some of us not even a year, so we're really just putting on weight and looking the part to be able to fit the physicality since we're already people athletic and things like that bring together. "
The development of the SU underclassmen was complemented by the consistency of the most important veterans, namely the Redshirt junior cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu and the junior wide receiver Taj Harris.
Harris finished the game with 58 catches for 733 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games and excelled at a quarterback carousel that went from DeVito to Senior Rex Culpepper to a true freshman JaCobian Morgan and back to Culpepper through a series of injuries to the Culpepper Position changed. Harris will start next season with Marvin Harrison as sixth in SU history with 135 career catches.
Senior Offensive Tackle Airon Servais and Redshirt Senior Defensive Lineman Josh Black each announced their plans to return for another year of suitability next season, along with the return of DeVito and the rest of the offensive line expected to begin in 2020 Create a stable group of veterans if they can stay healthy.
"I think this year is more of a staff review," Babers said. “We wanted to take a fascinating look at our staff and use that last part of 2020 and early 2021 to regroup, refocus and not necessarily reinvent the wheel, but we have to come back out a much more condensed and focused package of that what we want to do and how we want to do it. "
The biggest achievement for SU this season was not lost by Babers and his players who simply put themselves in a position to qualify for any game amid the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the plethora of injuries inconsistent with the external circumstances collapsed.
At the start of the week, SU was one of 10 national-level teams to play 11 games, including just two other teams from Power Five conferences. Syracuse and Boston College were the only two ACC teams that played their schedule non-stop.
Syracuse players exercised multiple times during pre-season training camp while their leadership advisor met with Babers and SU representatives about concerns about coronavirus testing. They eventually prompted SU sporting director John Wildhack to urge the ACC to increase its weekly testing protocol, which was achieved before the start of the season.
"You just have to be prepared for whatever you see," said Nykeim Johnson, SU senior wide receiver, about the past season. “Adversity happens all the time, you just have to learn how to jump back. With that being said, we don't have the kind of season we wanted, it's been some kind of adversity and we have to fight and make sure we come back strong next year. "
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