On Wednesday’s ACC Coaches Teleconference, a reporter asked Syracuse coach Dino Babers if the Virginia Tech defense was for real, or if the team’s weak non-conference schedule has maybe inflated the unit’s numbers.
“I think it’s real,” Babers said. “I think when you look at the tradition of Bud Foster’s defenses and the things he’s been able to do over the years, I think this year, with the pass rush, probably going against a different style of offense during the spring during two-a-days and seeing some of the things Fuente brought over from Memphis and to find out the things that are good and the things that are bad versus certain styles of offense, I bet you that’s probably helped his growth, and that’s kind of hard to say about someone who’s been as good as he has for as long as he has been.”
Babers heaped praise on No. 17 Virginia Tech on Wednesday, saying that the team’s experience might give them an edge on Saturday when the Hokies travel to play Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Babers said that Virginia Tech has nine players on the roster with more than 20 starts, whereas the Orange have just three such players.
“They’ve got fantastic personnel. Coach Beamer did not leave the cupboard empty,” Babers said. “You put that combination together with good football players, you’re going to get a top-25 football team and that’s exactly what we’ve got coming to the Carrier Dome.”
Syracuse dealing with inexperience, injuries
Syracuse’s youth and inexperience isn’t helped by the fact that the Orange are missing some key pieces. Omari Palmer, Cody Conway and Jason Emerich are dealing with injuries on the offensive line, wide receiver Jamal Custis is still hurt and is unlikely to play and defensive end Kendall Coleman will miss the first half due to a targeting penalty from last week’s game vs. Wake Forest.
“We have young talent, but the problem with young talent is that it’s very young,” Babers said. “When you start putting talented, young players on the football field and they’re still young, you get them against some experienced guys that are older and more mature, there’s going to be physical breakdowns.”
The Syracuse secondary has also had some shuffling, and Babers sees that as a possible weak spot for Virginia Tech to exploit.
“We’ve got people rolling in and out of the lineup back there, and it’s hard to be extremely consistent,” Babers said. “Other than Corey Winfield, I’m not sure we’ve been consistent at any of the other spots back there.”
Despite their youth, Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente says that his offense will have its work cut out for them this weekend.
“They’ve got a good scheme,” Fuente said. “They do a great job mixing up their calls. Their movement up front causes a lot of people problems. We’ll certainly have our hands full handling all of those things that they can throw at you.”
Babers, Fuente spending time to combat opposing offenses
Defensively, Babers said that Syracuse will have to be versatile defensively in order to balance putting pressure on Jerod Evans, while also still being able to contain Virginia Tech’s group of skill position players.
“We’re probably going to do a little bit of both,” Babers said. “I think you have to have the ability to do both, just in case one is better than the other, or just in case one is not very good and you need to lean more heavily on the other one.”
The biggest bright spot for Syracuse has been their passing game and the growth of wide out Amba Etta-Tawo, who leads the ACC in receiving yards.
“I think he’s a fantastic competitor,” Babers said. “He’s really probably adapted to the offensive system faster than anybody else on the offensive side of the ball, and because he knows the system and he’s a fierce competitor with a lot of God-given ability, I think that’s why he’s done some of the things that he’s doing, and why there’s so much interest in him from the National Football League.”
Fuente said that Syracuse’s offense will be hard to stop on Saturday, in large part due to quarterback Eric Dungey. The sophomore signal caller is completing over 64 percent of his passes, averages over seven yards per pass attempt and has thrown for 11 touchdowns, while throwing just four interceptions.
“Well, it’s a tremendous challenge,” Fuente said. “The speed with which they move is hard to duplicate. They’re going to push the football down the field. They definitely have some playmakers on the outside and they’ve got a quarterback who’s making good decisions. All that being said, they will still run the ball between the tackles if you load too many people to the passing game.”