TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After four years spent near the bottom of the ACC football standings, Syracuse seems to be on the rise in its second year under coach Dino Babers.
At 4-4, the Orange has already equaled last year’s win total, picked up a signature win against No. 4 Clemson earlier this season and gave No. 10 Miami all it could handle a week later.
Syracuse’s climb in the ACC Atlantic pecking order isn’t the only thing moving in a hurry.
The Orange’s offense, which Babers refined while climbing the ranks at Arizona, Texas A&M, UCLA and Baylor, is built on speed – and not the type that can be measured in the 40-yard dash.
Syracuse runs its offense at a blistering pace, hurrying to the line of scrimmage between plays and often snapping the ball with more than 20 seconds left on the play clock.
By the end of its games, the Orange has, on average, run more than 89 plays, the most in the nation.
A typical college football team runs around 72 plays per game; Florida State averages 66.4.
“They’ll probably be the fastest team we play this year,” FSU safety Derwin James said. “They try to be fast like Oregon.”
Both James and coach Jimbo Fisher said that it’s impossible to fully replicate in practice the speed and precision with which Syracuse operates.
But there are creative ways that the Seminoles can try.
For instance, FSU’s defense this week will simultaneously practice against two scout-team offenses. After one play is complete, the defense will rush to line up against the second offense, which will be set and ready to snap the ball.
During that time, the Seminoles will need to receive their next play call, make substitutions and then get properly aligned.
“(The practice) even runs at a faster tempo than they would in the game,” Fisher said.
“Everyone’s got to be ready to go,” James added. “The ‘1s’ and ‘2s’ have got to be ready to go in, in case a guy needs a (breather). Whether it’s a good or bad play, they’re going to be on the ball, ready to snap the ball.”
That Syracuse boasts the ACC’s third-leading passer and the league’s No. 1 and 6 receivers doesn’t hurt, either.
Quarterback Eric Dungey is the catalyst. The 6-4, 222-pound junior has thrown for 2,217 yards and 12 touchdowns, and, with 484 yards and eight scores on the ground, he’s also the conference’s 12th-leading rusher.
“He’s what makes their team go,” James said. “He makes the throws. He’s fast – sneaky fast. He can do a lot of things.”
Senior receiver Steve Ishmael, meanwhile, has a 121-yard cushion atop the ACC leaderboard (66 catches, 843 yards, six TDs), and fellow senior Ervin Philips (61-626, 3) isn’t too far behind.
“I see them playing with much more confidence and knowledge in what they’re doing,” Fisher said. “They’re comfortable in their systems.”
That’s not to say that the Orange are unstoppable. They do, after all, have four losses, and have been particularly susceptible to turnovers. Syracuse ranks 105th nationally in turnover margin (minus-0.63) and have given the ball away eight times in their four defeats.
That includes four interceptions from Dungey in a 27-19 loss at Miami.
So, regardless of either team’s record, Babers believes that Syracuse will still have an uphill climb come Saturday.
“I know that obviously (the Seminoles) are playing their freshman quarterback, but there’s nothing wrong with their defense,” he said. “They’ve got a championship defense. Take 10 points away (across the season) and you’re probably talking about a team with one loss, to Alabama, that’s ranked in the top four. So, we know they’re talented, and we know we’ve got our hands full.”