Then and Now - football - part 2 | Syracusefan.com

Then and Now - football - part 2

SWC75

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(What I wrote in August is in italics. What I wrote in December is not.)

Many people, (including me), had long thought that the Carrier Dome was under-used through most of its history. It seemed the ideal place for a wide-open offense based on speed and tempo, one that would spread the field and use all of its weapons to force the defense to cover everybody and everything, which it could not do. Instead, we had too often tried to grind out victories on the ground, as if we were still playing outdoors in Archbold Stadium. Both Art Briles’ Baylor teams, (with Dino Babers as his assistant through 2011) and Dino’s teams at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green ran the ball amazingly well but they did it by passing the ball amazingly well first and then hitting the gaps that would open up in the defense as a result and playing at a tempo that the other team couldn’t keep up with. Now we were going to have a state-of-the-art offense that sped past our opposition and wore them out trying to cover everything and play at the pace we would set…

…I don’t think we’ve seen the full Dino Babers offense here. The big thing that’s held it back is obvious: we haven’t had a good offensive line. That group may have been adequate in 2018 but even then they weren’t dominant. Really, any offensive scheme is going to work behind a dominant line: all the plays look like they are diagramed on a blackboard….. But if you’ve got problems on the line, you need a dual threat quarterback who can get away from a rush and act like a basketball point guard on the break when the play breaks down, a guy with the judgement to avoid turnovers but still make big plays when things have gone wrong. You need more than one running threat so the defense can’t key on the same guy. If
you aren’t going to have two running backs, the quarterback is going to have to be your second running back.”

What we got this year was a regression to the Schwartzwalder Era. Dino shocked everyone by turning the offense over to Garrett Shrader, who had transferred in from Mississippi State, where he didn’t meet Mike Leach’s needs, instead of continuing with Tommy DeVito, the anointed one who was supposed to be our Jimmy Garoppolo but turned out to be the second coming of Bill Scharr, a highly rated pocket passer from the late 80’s who didn’t fit in George DeLeone’s freeze-option offense. The difference is that Dino’s offense had been built for a guy like DeVito. But the intangibles weren’t there. He had no sense of where the pressure was coming from or what to do to avoid it. He gave up on plays, running or throwing the ball out of bounds. Even his great passing accuracy had deserted him after two years of trying to survive behind a porous offensive line. Shrader was a big, strong dude who loved to run the ball and could do it very well. He could take hits and break tackles. He wasn’t a jitterbug but he saw the field and could make good cuts and had the speed to take it all the way if he found an opening.

He made a great 1-2 combination with Sean Tucker, the best running back we’ve had in at least a generation. Tucker ran for a net 1,496 yards and 12TDs while Shrader ran for a positive 994 yards (but was thrown for 213 yards in sacks for a net of 781) and 14TDs. Unfortunately, their production declined late in the season as teams realized they didn’t have to worry about the pass and flooded ‘the box’ with defenders.

The problem was, Schrader threw the ball like he was in a halftime contest. He completed 52.6% of this throws which would have great in the Schwartzwalder Era but is lousy now. The good thing is, despite his wild throws, he only threw 4 interceptions, probably because most of his incompletions never got there. He had an amazing bomb that won the Virginia Tech game, despite, (or maybe because of), being flattened as he threw the ball. But there were just too many dying quails and dead ducks. There is hope. In the final game against Pittsburgh, Shrader completed 17 of 24 passes for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns. He seemed to be using better technique in his throws, stepping into them rather than standing flat-footed. He was a four star recruit and a guy rated that high must be able to throw better than what we’ve seen this year.

But the dream of having “having a state-of-the-art offense that sped past our opposition and wore them out trying to cover everything and play at the pace we would set” seems to be on hold right now.

This confirms my general impression that it’s best to spread the ball around. Dino says that he likes a “bell cow” receiver: a clear #1 guy for the QB to look for. I think that’s true if you have a truly exceptional talent like Amba Etta Tawo, (I still don’t why he didn’t make it in the NFL: he was a good as I’ve ever seen here). But if you don’t, you need to make the defense cover everybody -and everywhere. And that includes the tight end. In the Super Bowl, each team had a #87: Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. They were their team’s leading receivers with a total of 16 catches for 200 yards and 2TDs. We have a #87, too, Luke Benson who in two years has 14/237/5. 36% of his catches have bene for touchdowns, including scores from 70 and 59 yards out. What is the purpose of throwing to the sidelines to stretch the defense if you are almost ignore a tight end who can catch the ball over the middle and take it the distance? Our tendency to try to spread the field with almost exclusively sideline passes reminds me of when Pasqualoni and DeLeone used to run the nearside option constantly to set up an occasional play to the opposite side. It might result in a big play from time to time but we need to make first downs and sustain drives and making easy-to-defend plays basic to your offense makes it hard to do that. The sideline is the greatest defender of all time. It can’t be blocked and anyone running a route along it can be double-teamed with one guy. Use all your weapons and the whole field. And your basic plays should be designed to consistently gain yardage, not just set up other plays that will do so.

In 2016 our top receivers were Amba Etta-Tawo with 94, Erv Phillips with 90 while Steve Ismael and Brisley Estime had 48 each. In 2017, Ismael had a school record 105 receptions. Phillips had 89, Devin Butler 33 and tight end Ravian Pierce 29. In the big year of 2018, Sean Riley caught 64 balls, Jamal Custis had 51, Nykeim Johnson 41 and Taj Harris 40. In 2019, Triston Jackson had 66, Harris 37, Riley 36 and tight end Aaron Hackett 23. In 2020, Harris had 57, Anthny Queeley 37 and Johnson 20. In 2021, Courtney Jackson had 37, Devaughn Cooper 21 and Sean Tucker 20. It’s the incredible shrinking passing game!

The poster child for this has been poor Luke Benson, a high school track star in a tight ends’ body who, in his first year, caught TD passes of 70 and 59 yards. He ahd 8 catches for 176 yards that year, (22.00 yards per catch) and 3 scores. As a sophomore he caught 6 passes for just 63 yards (10.5) but still managed to score 2 TDs. Tight ends are great targets for red zone shots into the end zone. There were complaints then that he was being under-used. Babers, on his radio show, stressed that in our offense, a tight end has to be a good blocker. He also complained that Benson “starts slow”, even though he’s fast at full speed. Dino said that he, Dino, in his playing days, could have beaten Luke in a 40 yard dash. This year, Luke caught 5 passes for 22 yards, (4.4 a catch) and no scores. You’d think he would have been a great third option on those zone read plays where either Tucker of Shrader ran the ball. Luke entered the transfer portal December 1st.
 
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perdurabo

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He also complained that Benson “starts slow”, even though he’s fast at full speed. Dino said that he, Dino, in his playing days, could have beaten Luke in a 40 yard dash.
Then run him deep. Over and over.
 

SoBristol

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Well, if you have Tucker and Shrader, and a blocking back like Elmore, you would be nuts to fling the ball around as if your best weapons were passing to elite receivers. Throw out theory and go with what you have. Only way this team got competitive.
 

SWC75

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Well, if you have Tucker and Shrader, and a blocking back like Elmore, you would be nuts to fling the ball around as if your best weapons were passing to elite receivers. Throw out theory and go with what you have. Only way this team got competitive.

How about keeping the defense honest with an occasional; pass over the middle to the tight end.
 

SWC75

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I've added the italics that didn't transfer from WORD and so my post now makes more sense.
 

SoBristol

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How about keeping the defense honest with an occasional; pass over the middle to the tight end.
Sure, you mix it up and use the TE if you have a good one. But you don’t take what was working at BGSU or E Illinois with a different set of skill players and consider that a model for SU in 2021 or 2022. Shrader and Tucker are special talents in the running game, so you should expect the offense to build around that.

Our receivers are ordinary, our TEs haven’t shown much in the few times they have been targeted. So draw your conclusions.
 

Trueblue25

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Cali Award Thread to be put out this upcoming week….

Somehow predictions were even further off this year
 

SWC75

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Sure, you mix it up and use the TE if you have a good one. But you don’t take what was working at BGSU or E Illinois with a different set of skill players and consider that a model for SU in 2021 or 2022. Shrader and Tucker are special talents in the running game, so you should expect the offense to build around that.

Our receivers are ordinary, our TEs haven’t shown much in the few times they have been targeted. So draw your conclusions.

I don't think Elmore and Mang have much as receivers. Benson surely did. But when you are targeted a half dozen times a season, you get a bit rusty.
 

SoBristol

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I don't think Elmore and Mang have much as receivers. Benson surely did. But when you are targeted a half dozen times a season, you get a bit rusty.
I wonder about Benson. Straight ahead speed, but not the prototypical TE who makes a living on short throws over the middle. Maybe he was great and the coaches never saw it because they don’t know better?
 

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