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Looking Back at No. 18 Syracuse Football’s Perfect Season - So Far

Dino Babera embraces Caleb Okechukwu
Syracuse Athletics
No. 14 Syracuse head coach Dino Babers celebrates with defensive lineman Caleb Okechukwu after its 24-9 win over No.15 NC State last Saturday.

Six games in, no losses. A couple of close calls, a couple of beatdowns, but plenty of solid wins. That is what has come about for No. 14 Syracuse football this season.

“You should cherish it, and not let this moment go past you,” Orange head coach Dino Babers said in his weekly press conference on Monday. “Right now, it’s something that you should look at and be proud of.”

There are certainly facets of this team that have put smiles on SU fans faces. Garrett Shrader has stepped up his game; the defense gives up a little under 14 points per game, good enough for sixth in the nation; and ‘Cuse placekicker Andre Szmyt is back to his 2018 Lou Groza Award self.

But this perfect season has been not so perfect in the eyes of Matt Bonaparte, host of the “Locked On Syracuse” podcast and former WAER Sports Talk Director.

“[Shrader] put the ball in the right place a lot of the time,” Bonaparte said. “He’s still got a ways to go. When you play a defense like Clemson, he could get exposed.”

There is credit with the numbers QB1 has put up, though, according to Bonaparte. Shrader has completed a little under 70% of his passes, collected a total of 17 touchdowns and has thrown three interceptions - two of them last week against No. 15 NC State.

“He looks really good on paper,” Bonaparte said. “But then you watch him and you say, ‘Hmm, I don’t know.’”

The defense is “fantastic.” The Orange are the only team in the ACC that gives up less than 300 yards - 268.8, to be exact.

“Mikel Jones coming back was so pivotal, so crucial to them being good,” Bonaparte said. “They are such a close knit unit. Having guys like Anwar Sparrow, Leon Lowery and Derek McDonald behind the initial three starters has been ridiculous.”

With all the talk surrounding the linebacking core with this team, even with all the injuries, there was plenty of credit given to the rest of Tony White’s defense.

“You have the two best corners (Duce Chestnut and Garrett Williams) - arguably,” Bonaparte said. “You also have a really young and solid defensive line.”

As important as offense and defense are, a massive improvement from last year to this year has come from Szmyt. The redshirt senior’s right foot has booted eleven out of 12 kicked balls through the uprights, up 27 percent from last year.

“He has turned it around. I think he may have had the ‘yips,’” Bonaparte said. “It was a total mental block for him, I think. He is kicking without care anymore, and I think that is what is serving him well.”

Plus, there has to be a lot of credit given to the kicker, thanks to his story. Just ask Bonaparte.

“The story is so cool,” Bonaparte said. “He walked on, won the Groza, had some troubles, and now in his final season, he is back. I like the story arc there.”

Each side of this Orange squad stands out in its own way, during these first six games. Some stuff has not been perfect, but the record is - so far.

Syracuse’s tallest task is next. The Orange are in South Carolina to face No. 5 Clemson. In four tries, ‘Cuse has never won in Clemson. Game time is set for today, October 22, at noon. WAER’s coverage begins with McClurg Team Countdown to Kickoff at 11:30 AM.