Heading into last year’s meeting with the Syracuse Orange, the Bulls appeared to be going in the wrong direction following a 1-3 start.
However, after a 2-0 start to 2016, the Bulls go into their non-conference matchup with the Orange gaining momentum.
Before their October matchup with Syracuse in 2015, the Bulls and their head coach seemed to be walking on eggshells, with change looming if the Bulls’ fortunes did not make a turn for the better.
Following the Bulls’ 45-24 win against Syracuse, the Bulls haven’t looked back, winning nine of their last 11 games since then.
A 27-35 record over their last five seasons compelled the Orange to turn to former Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers. And while Syracuse did have a winning season in 2013, the Orange have not won a conference title since 1998, while a member of the Big East.
With head coaching experience at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois, Babers’ 38-17 career record has much to do with an offense built on speed and spacing much like USF’s Gulf Coast scheme. In four years as a head coach, Babers’ teams have averaged almost 40 points per game (39.2).
While the Bulls had no trouble in their 48-17 victory over Northern Illinois, coach Willie Taggart did admit to needing to get back to basics after committing 8 penalties for 77 yards against the Huskies.
“We just have to make sure we’re sound,” Taggart said.
“Fundamentally, we can’t do too much and just be sound. Our guys have to be able to get the call and line up. I think with this up-tempo stuff, that’s when you can get in trouble when your guys don’t line up.”
Syracuse dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey helms the Orange’s fast-paced attack, having already compiled 610 passing yards and 5 touchdowns through his first two games as a sophomore.
Babers is no stranger to coaching dynamic quarterbacks, as he has coached New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in 2012-13 at Eastern Illinois.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo, who won ACC Receiver of the Week last week after hauling in eight grabs for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns, leads a talented Syracuse receiving corps. Along with junior receiver Ervin Philips, Etta-Tawo also heads a stable of talented Orange pass catchers.
“With that up-tempo offense, it’s tough for any defense to adjust,” Bulls’ Defensive Coordinator Raymond Woodie said.
“They go so fast, it just scares you. They have some big-time players in Dungey … he’s an unbelievable player himself. He can make plays and extend them with his feet, he can throw the long ball, and they have a lot of weapons.”