Dino Babers talks keeping starters in, Jones’ targeting call ahead of NC State game

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Dino Babers said he didn't have any conversations with assistant coaches about pulling Tucker or Shrader against Louisville.

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Even during the late stages of Syracuse’s blowout 41-3 loss at Louisville on Saturday, Syracuse head coach Dino Babers kept members of the Orange’s offense on the field. Notably, SU quarterback Garrett Shrader and star running back Sean Tucker were still seeing snaps late in the fourth quarter. 

Six years earlier, then-Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer kept quarterback Eric Dungey in during a blowout game at Louisville, resulting in Dungey suffering a season-ending injury. Shafer was fired shortly afterwards. Fortunately for the Orange, Shrader and Tucker didn’t get injured on Saturday, still giving SU hope to pick up a crucial sixth win — which would make it bowl eligible — against either NC State or Pittsburgh.

Babers defended his decision to keep the players in during his weekly press conference Monday, saying that after originally pulling them in the fourth quarter, Tucker came back and had a conversation with Babers. Tucker wanted to go back in the game, Babers said, and if he was going back in, Shrader and the offensive line were too.

“Two years, (Tucker’s) never had a conversation with me during a football game,” Babers said. “And based off that conversation, he was put back in the game. Not for records, for other things which are private.”


Here are three takeaways from Babers’ press conference:

Tucker, Shrader play late in the loss

When asked if he had a conversation with any of his assistant coaches about pulling Tucker or Shrader, Babers said he didn’t. He opted to pull them while the Orange were down by the wide margin they had trailed throughout the second half — Syracuse went into halftime behind 35-3 and were shutout in the second half.

Babers made the usual move that coaches make late in blowout games by pulling his offensive starters, giving backups a chance to earn game action and to avoid injuries to the team’s top players. But he said Tucker came up to him to talk for a “very private conversation” during the fourth quarter. Tucker wanted to go back in the game, not to break Joe Morris’ single-season program rushing record, Babers said, but “for some stuff that was unbelievable” that the head coach didn’t reveal.

Tucker “sure wasn’t going back into that game himself,” Babers said. So Shrader and the offensive line followed him back out onto the field. Babers said he’s never had a player like Tucker want to go back into a game like that before. He said the last time he’s had a conversation with “somebody like that” was with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in 2013, when Babers coached at Eastern Illinois.

“When you have players that good, doing things that normally players like that wouldn’t want to do, I’m going to always go with that player,” Babers said. “Regardless of what happens on that field, and what I have to deal with in this press conference for doing that, I’m a players coach, and that’s the way I go about it.”

Mikel Jones ejected for targeting

During the second quarter of the game against Louisville, linebacker Mikel Jones went to tackle tight end Marshon Ford. As Ford went to the ground, Jones dove and hit Ford in the midsection with his helmet. The play was reviewed and Jones was ejected for targeting since he led with the crown of his helmet. 

After the game, Babers said losing Jones — the “captain” of SU’s defense — was like losing Shrader on offense. Jones is responsible for making pre-snap checks to get Syracuse’s defense ready, and he was the Orange’s leader in tackles by over 20. 

Babers said Monday that he saw the play and felt the call was “legitimate.” He said it had to do with the position of the crown of Jones’ head on the Ford’s body. Babers said he told Jones the way he hit Ford wasn’t safe, even though both players came out of the hit uninjured. 

“I expect him to be super, super better,” Babers said of Jones. “I don’t expect it to happen again this school year, and we use it as a teaching point for everybody else on defense. We do not want you to be in that position, that’s not a healthy position to be in when you’re tackling someone.”

Looking toward NC State

NC State lost its third game of the season, falling to Wake Forest on Saturday night. Still, the Wolfpack was still ranked in the latest edition of the AP Top 25 poll — at No. 25 — despite the loss. Syracuse has beaten NC State just once since Babers became head coach in 2016, coming in an upset win at home in 2018 that made the Orange bowl eligible.

SU will once again be seeking bowl eligibility against NC State on Saturday, but it is coming off its worst loss of the season, and SU hasn’t won at Carter-Finley Stadium in eight years.

“We understand that it’s going to be a difficult venue to play in. We’ve been there before, we understand that,” Babers said. “But we’re looking forward to having an opportunity to putting this football team back out front and seeing if we can change the narrative on what happened previously.”

When asked if there’s anything the Orange could take advantage of against NC State’s rushing defense that is ranked No. 1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Babers said “not much.” He said the Wolfpack like to force teams to throw the ball — an area Shrader and Syracuse have struggled in this season — and “there’s a lot of work to be done” ahead of Saturday. 

Everybody that shows up needs to understand that it’s going to be extremely interesting,” Babers said. “They need to understand that it’s going to be extremely interesting for everyone that shows up.”

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