SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Buckle up. The Syracuse football ride is only going to pick up speed from here.
That was the message delivered by new Orange coach Dino Babers after his team christened his fast-break style of offense with a 33-7 win over Colgate in the season-opener for both teams Friday night.
Overall, SU gained 554 yards on 81 plays.
“That will be the slowest game you ever see us play,” Babers said. “Did you see the paint dry? I did. It will never be that slow again.”
Babers’ no-huddle attack was nearly a model of perfection. SU put the ball in the air 46 times and only six times did it kiss the Dome turf. Eric Dungey opened the game with 13 straight completions en route to a 34-of-40-effort. His 34 completions are the second-highest single-game total in school history and his 355 yards ranks ninth.
For the first-time in program history, two SU receivers notched at least 10 receptions in a single game. Ervin Philips grabbed a school-record 14 catches and Amba Etta-Tawo snared 12 for 210 yards, the fifth-highest total in school history.
“From day one, we knew in this type of offense there’s room for a lot of plays,” said Etta-Tawo, a transfer from Maryland. “So we had to click up day one. We did a lot of stuff in the summer, leading into the season, to just prepare for opportunities like this.”
The Orange zipped off 33 straight points after FCS Colgate, defending Patriot League champion, scored the game’s first points on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Jake Melville to Owen Rockett with nine minutes left in the first.
“We came out and threw a punch at them and drove down the field,” Melville said. “I wish we could have continued that throughout the game, but it’s something we’ve got to learn from and move on.”
Dungey tied the game on a 43-yard strike to Etta-Tawo to cap a 79-yard, 6-play scoring drive just 1 minute 45 seconds later. Syracuse freshman running back Moe Neal ignited the rout 2:31 into the second quarter, taking his first college carry 49 yards for a touchdown.
“I don’t think it was fast enough,” Dungey said of the team’s pace. “I’m pretty sure coach, he already was saying, no, we’re not fast enough. There’s tons of room for improvement.”
SYRACUSE: Give the entertaining Orange offense credit. For the most part it was crisp and executed as advertised. But there’s still some fine-tuning to do – especially in the ground game and punching it across in the red zone – and Syracuse can’t rely on a quick pace alone to get the job done against better foes.
Babers especially wants to pick up the ground game, which produced 117 yards.
“They just decided that they were going to take away the run, which means that they were going to give up the pass,” Babers said. “Now, coaches are hard-headed sometimes. I’ve been known to have quite a hard head every once in a while myself. I just feel that you have to be able to keep trying to run the football. I just don’t want to throw the ball every single snap, even though we might be able to. That’s just not my style. I thought all the backs left some, as we would say, some meat on the bone.”
COLGATE: Despite the final score, overmatched Colgate showed itself to be talented and poised club with a lot of good pieces. The Patriot League will have its hands full with this team.
SU was 3-for-3 on fourth downs, an aggressiveness that Babers said will continue.
“We will do what we think we need to do to win,” Babers said. “And on that note, going down the road, on fourth down if we have to go for it we have to go for it. But I’m already telling you, after our first game, that we’re going to do those things because we’re not playing to be close. We’re playing to win.”
SYRACUSE: The Orange opens ACC play Sept. 9 by hosting No. 19 Louisville in both the first real test of the Babers era and a measure of fans’ early optimism about his ability to turn around this program.
“Hopefully you walked away with a glimmer. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel of what this could become once you work all the kinks out and you have the right type of individuals giving you the right efforts in the right positions,” Babers said.
COLGATE: The Raiders get a week to regroup before a contest at Yale on Sept. 17, Colgate’s second of three straight road games to open the campaign. Taking a 2-1 mark out of that stretch would really catapult the Raiders into the heart of their season.