Syracuse Football: The Truth About Defense


The internet and its message boards would have you believe Syracuse football is going to be a worse defensive team under Dino Babers. Here’s why that is absurd.

Let me tell you little story. One time, some years ago, I was engaged in some raucous, college-aged tomfoolery with some friends and we stumbled into a situation which someone did something which seemed ridiculous. The specifics don’t matter, only what came of the experience. As we watched in glorified agony as one of our close friends engaged in a behavior that most “normal” people would never consider, we were all left amused as the expected consequences were swift and just. After our compatriot finished doing whatever it was he was doing, I muttered a simple phrase that would be repeated by the people who heard it hundreds of times later.

“If I wanted to do it, I would do it.”

More from Inside the Loud House

If you think about it, the phrase is so simple, it almost makes no sense. It is a motto that could be applied to almost any situation a person will come across in life. Think about it. If you wanted to make a bunch of money, you would make a bunch of money. You may have to adjust the details of how you make that money, but there are ways. What matters is that you are willing to engage in the methods necessary to accomplish the task. If you wanted to marry your significant other, you would marry him/her/them. If you wanted a croissant, you would have a croissant, even if you had to get in the car, or on the bus, go across town, and get it.

The point is, what matters in nearly all situations is that the person who wants to do something, or is already doing it, is doing it on purpose and actually working to do it. It’s like that Shia LaBeouf TED Talk where he just keeps yelling for you “to just do it.” Yeah, he’s a bit of a maniac, but he is right. If you mean to do something, than mean to do it.

I say all of that to say this: as good of a defense as Syracuse football has had over the years (specifically under Scott Shafer), the defense wasn’t elite and is not automatically going to get worse because it is going to use more zone and less man coverage, or because it will rely more on a four man rush as opposed to zone blitzes. If Dino Babers wants a dominant defense, he’ll have a dominant defense.

This doesn’t mean the defense will become dominant due to sheer will and desire alone. There are details that need to be addressed in order to get to that point.

Nov 7, 2015; Louisville, KY, USA; Louisville Cardinals quarterback Kyle Bolin (14) attemps to pass the ball against Syracuse Orange defensive tackle Chris Slayton (95) during the second quarter at Papa John

As someone who writes about Syracuse sports, I have the never-ending need to read everything I can about Syracuse sports. This means I read works written by my fellow sports writers and the hoards of anonymous message board posters (and trolls) who respond to the writing. One of the things that I am seeing more and more on these message boards is that simply by coaching the Syracuse football team to be so efficient and fast on offense that the defense will automatically be worse next season.

Let me hit you with some knowledge before continuing. It is true that, in college football, a very slight correlation exists that the more points a team scores, the more it gives up. When I say slight, it is so slight it almost can’t be considered a correlation. There are tons of outliers when you chart the data. For instance, only two of the top ten offensive scoring teams this season were also in the top 35 in defensive points allowed? Those two were Oklahoma and Houston.

Additionally, only two of the other eight were in the top 50: Memphis and North Carolina.

How about those teams with the great defenses? Of the top ten in defensive points allowed, only one was in the top 30 in offensive points scored (Ohio State at 25). Out of the other nine, only two more were in the top 50 (Alabama at 37 and Michigan at 50; An honorable mention goes to Florida State at 51).

The combined record of the top ten offensive scoring teams is 100-26 (.794). The combined record for the top ten in defensive points against is 96-28 (.774). For those stat-heads out there, that means there is not statistical difference between samples to determine if defense or offense wins more games.

So, let’s talk about Syracuse football for a second. Syracuse scored 25.5 points per game (80th in the nation). That’s bad. Syracuse gave up 33.8 points per game (97th in the nation). That’s worse.

These are fairly remedial stats that show something very important. That Syracuse football, in 2015 under Scott Shafer, was bad at offense, and much worse at defense. If a team can’t score at a better than average rate or stop the opponent from scoring at a better than average rate, then there is almost no chance for that team to have a winning record. If you are reading this, you probably fall into one of two categories: those who believe my last statement or those that don’t. For those that don’t, the proof is in the rankings. Every single team that is ranked or received votes in the AP top 25 and the Coaches top 25 is within the top 25-percentile in either defensive points allowed per game or offensive points scored per game.

More orange: How about the offense?

So, knowing those numbers, I find it difficult to put any stock in any message board style opinion that claims Syracuse is going to get worse under Babers because it will suffer on defense. A statement like that is not based in fact or stat, but rather a misguided belief that Syracuse football was good defensively and that’s why they were ever competitive under Shafer.

News flash: just because you believe it doesn’t make it true.

So, in going back to my idea that “if Coach Babers wants a dominant defense, he’ll have a dominant defense,” I simply have to say that it is true. The data behind Dino Babers, however, tell me that he would never waste his energy in trying to have a dominant defense because he doesn’t need it to be successful. In college football, you become a great team by being elite on offensive. Or defense. But you don’t need to be elite on both sides of the ball to be an elite team.