FILE – In this Nov. 12, 2016, file photo, Syracuse head coach Dino Babers, center, watches a play from the Syracuse sideline in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina State, in Syracuse. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi, File)
SYRACUSE (AP) — Syracuse is back on track after a big home win, and the fourth game of the second season under coach Dino Babers is at hand. This is the moment when he feels his system is ready for takeoff. It’s happened before in his previous two head coaching jobs.
In his first year at Eastern Illinois (2012), his Panthers finished 7-5 and then went 12-2. A 42-7 victory over Eastern Kentucky in the fourth game of 2013 started a nine-game winning streak as the team finished with 8,253 yards of total offense.
Babers then left for Bowling Green and his Falcons went 8-6 in his first season and 10-3 in his second after starting 1-2. A victory over Purdue in the fourth game kicked off a seven-game winning streak.
At Syracuse, Babers is facing a completely different level of competition. Eastern Illinois is a member of college football’s second tier, the Football Championship Subdivision, and the Mid-American Conference where Bowling Green has had great success is a far cry from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Syracuse (2-1) hits the road for the first time this season on Saturday night for a game against No. 25 LSU (2-1). It will be contested in one of the most imposing venues in college football — Tiger Stadium.
Babers remains resolute in his prediction, even though he’s never been to the stadium nicknamed Death Valley.
“I’m not going to back away from the statement. This is when we normally get going,” Babers said Monday. “I think based off the last game it’s probably about right. It just happens to be some of the toughest games on the schedule (ahead). That’s how they fall.”
Babers isn’t hedging because of the Orange’s convincing 41-17 win over Central Michigan on Saturday. The Chippewas didn’t score in the final 37 minutes of the game as the up-tempo Orange offense excelled, outgaining Central Michigan 333-60 in the third quarter alone.
“If we were going to play that game to the end, the fourth quarter would have been even better than the third quarter,” Babers said. “They (the Chippewas) were getting exhausted on both sides of the ball, we were moving at a very fast tempo and a very fast pace. We were operating at a high efficiency.
“That’s what it’s supposed to look like,” Babers said. “Now we’ve got to see if we can go out there and duplicate that again against some other opponents.”
LSU is coming off an eye-opening 37-7 loss at Mississippi State, which vaulted into the AP Top 25 at No. 17 on Sunday while the Tigers dropped 13 spots. The Bulldogs dominated that game from the outset as LSU self-destructed with dropped passes, untimely penalties, missed assignments and poor tackling.
Babers watched video of that game three times starting in the wee hours Sunday to begin formulating his game plan.
“We’ve got to attack them a different way,” he said. “To say that we can take the Mississippi State game plan and do it with our athletes, that’s not smart. We’ve got to do what we do and hopefully things will work out.”
Against Central Michigan, Syracuse accumulated 579 total yards offensively, 305 on the ground. The Orange averaged 6.8 yards per carry, and nearly half of those rushing yards came on two carries — a 74-yard run by quarterback Eric Dungey and a 71-yarder by tailback Moe Neal. Both led to touchdowns as the Orange exhibited some big-play capability.
Dungey led the team with 105 yards, the second 100-yard rushing game of his career, and is Syracuse’s leading rusher at 69.7 yards per game. He also has four rushing TDs to boost his career total to 15, just four shy of the school record shared by Bill Hurley and Donovan McNabb.
“Syracuse has a speed offense,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, a former assistant at Syracuse. “It is very uptempo like Missouri last year. It is fast-paced. Eric Dungey is a very efficient quarterback.”
Two years ago, LSU traveled to the Carrier Dome ranked eighth and held on for a 34-24 victory. Junior college transfer Zack Mahoney, the fifth string quarterback in preseason camp, made his first career start for the Orange because of injuries and kept them in the game. Dungey was out with a concussion suffered the previous week against Central Michigan.