SYRACUSE — The Syracuse University football team plans to illustrate the Anae and Beck effect for a well-known opponent and national audience tonight.
Syracuse (3-0 agg, Atlantic Coast Conference 1-0) and its resurgent offense will be the focus of an ACC duel against Virginia (2-1, 0-0) at 7 p.m. tonight at the JMA Wireless Dome. SU is favored with 9.5 points for the matchup televised by ESPN, according to Caesars Sportsbook Thursday.
The Orange are aiming for their second 4-0 start in the last 30 seasons, thanks in large part to the contributions of first-year offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck, both of whom hold the same positions at the Cavaliers held the previous six years.
“I would assume it’s probably personal for (Anae), so I think everyone wants to come out and show that we can execute their offense as well as we did last year,” said SU wide receiver Courtney Jackson.
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers hired Anae and Beck last December to continue as a tandem and revamp the SU passing offense, a task they immediately accomplished.
The duo led Virginia’s third-ranked unit in overall offense and passing attack last season, while SU finished as the bottom 10 FBS passing unit. In the first three games of this year, the Orange rank ahead of the Cavaliers through the airs, each led by the same quarterback as in 2021.
Syracuse is one of only four FBS teams yet to turn the ball and one of 19 to retain a perfect red zone percentage — no other team remains flawless in both categories.
SU quarterback Garrett Shrader has 68 points, the sixth-highest in the nation going into the week, and ranks fourth in the ACC for completion rate with 66.2 percent. Shrader has thrown for eight touchdowns, just a step short of his total from last year, and is tied with Southern Cal’s Caleb Williams for the third most TD passes without interceptions in the FBS.
Shrader has nearly doubled his passing yardage performance per game this year after averaging just 120 pass yards, completing 52 percent of his passes and throwing nine TDs on four picks in 2021.
“It’s a combination of a couple of things, obviously play-calling and coaching is the first step in that that puts us in the right positions to be successful and I think just playing together brings it all together,” Jackson said.
“I think (Anae) is a leader, he’s the offensive mind, and he knows how everything is supposed to look,” Jackson added. “If it’s not his way, we’ll do it again until we’re sure it’s right.” I think execution is the biggest thing with him, he just wants to keep everyone on track and make sure we’re all working to get better.
Virginia’s offense is seeing its first slump in its first season under new head coach Tony Elliott, a former Clemson offensive assistant for the past 11 years.
The Cavaliers are more than 100 yards per game ranked 72nd in the FBS on total offense (413), averaging just 236.7 yards through the air to rank 81st nationally and 10th in the ACC. Her top 3 streaks last year were 515.8 yards per game, 392.6 of which were over the pass.
Virginia senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong set team records for TD passes (31), pass yards (4,449), and total offense (4,700) a season ago, but this year has 52.9 percent of his passes with two TD strikes and completed three interceptions.
Armstrong and his top three receivers — Keytaon Thompson, Dontayvion Wicks and Lavel Davis Jr. — are all key returnees from Anae-Beck’s tenure.
“It’s an emotional game when you get your old family back and you’re back in front of them, and those kids are also going to want to prove something, which is, ‘Hey, I’m grown, I can ride this bike without the training wheels, without you here.’ are,'” said Babers.
“I’m sure it’s going to be an emotional game, there will be some hugs and hellos before or after either way, I don’t mind, the game is the game,” Babers added. “But as a family, we have to understand that it’s bigger than all of that. It’s about Syracuse vs. Virginia, and we have to suppress that emotion.”
Syracuse isn’t ranked, but received votes in the recent Associated Press Top 25 for the first time this year and earned a pick in the Coaches Poll for the third straight week.
The Orange, which takes on Wagner at FCS level on October 1 at 5 p.m., last opened 4-0 in 2018 and 1991.