SYRACUSE — Two games into his second season at Syracuse coach Dino Babers remains a patient man, even though his Orange already have a loss.
Middle Tennessee (1-1) put a damper on Syracuse’s season goals on Saturday, holding on for a comeback 30-23 victory in the Carrier Dome.
The Syracuse defense, which had performed above expectations in preseason camp, played a stellar first half, forcing two fumbles and an interception that linebacker Jonathan Thomas returned to the MTSU 4. But the offense sputtered and Syracuse settled for a field goal, its only points off the turnovers, and the defense failed again when the game was on the line.
The Blue Raiders scored on three straight drives in the second half to forge ahead, giving an emotional victory to former Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, now defensive coordinator for MTSU.
“The most important thing is to learn from this, and you’ve got to move on, you’ve got to get better,” Babers said. “I had 208 ears listening to me (at Sunday’s team meeting). We’re going to see what happens from here.”
Syracuse’s remaining 10 opponents played in a bowl game after last season, and five of its eight Atlantic Coast Conference games are against teams ranked in the top 17 this week — Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Miami. Toss in No. 12 LSU on the road in less than two weeks, and playing in a bowl game after this season already seems like a pipe dream for the Orange.
“You’ve just got to go look at the film, look at the mistakes and examine yourself hard,” Syracuse linebacker Parris Bennett said. “But you also can’t let the loss weigh on you and affect you the next game.”
Syracuse (1-1) hosts Central Michigan (2-0) on Saturday afternoon.
The Orange’s up-tempo offense behind quarterback Eric Dungey ran 93 plays against MTSU but netted only 308 yards and was outgained 269-182 passing as Shafer devised an effective strategy. Dungey, who rushed 19 times, was sacked five times and hit at least a dozen times altogether by the blitzing Blue Raiders, including a targeting violation that resulted in the ejection of defensive end Walter Brady.
The Orange’s offensive rhythm also was stymied by several stoppages when MTSU players asked for medical attention. The Syracuse offense operates at a fast pace, which often prevents opposing defenses from changing personnel when players tire.
Babers has seen it before.
“I would love to keep track on how many plays those guys are out before they come back in. That would be an interesting stat,” he said. “We don’t know if that’s convenient or not. That’s all up to the medical people, but safety comes first.”
Syracuse lost a big piece of its defense in the season opener against Central Connecticut State when junior safety Antwan Cordy suffered a hairline fracture to his lower right leg. Cordy, who missed 10 games last season with a forearm injury, is not expected to play for another month.
“I feel really bad for him,” Babers said. “Hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to get him back.”