SYRACUSE — Dino Babers applied one of his signature movie references when discussing the Syracuse University quarterback competition this week, calling for Tommy DeVito or Garrett Shrader to step up and seize the role like Maximus in the film “Gladiator”.
The sixth-year SU head football coach is expected to be on the sidelines after testing negative for COVID-19 Thursday following exposure to someone who tested positive two days prior, as confirmed by a team official.
During his press conference earlier in the week, Babers reaffirmed his preseason sentiment that he wants to see the battle for the starting spot play out on the field.
The Orange (1-1 overall) will host the Albany Great Danes (0-2) of the FCS Colonial Athletic Association at noon Saturday in the Carrier Dome to be televised on the ACC Network.
The matchup potentially sets the stage for either DeVito or Shrader to entertain after Babers referenced the line directed to Maximus from fellow character Proximo in “Gladiator”: “Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.”
“Take the community, take the team, win it on the field and remove all doubt,” Babers said. “Don’t leave the decision up to me, because eventually I will make the decision, so they need to get it done soon.”
Syracuse ranks 113th nationally in scoring offense (18 points per game), 114th in passing offense (145.5 yards per game) and 110th in total offense (320.5).
DeVito has started both games and completed 60 percent of his passes for 241 yards with no touchdown passes, one interception and a lost fumble. He has added 62 net rushing yards and a score on 16 attempts while taking five sacks.
Shrader, meanwhile, entered early in the second quarter of SU’s 17-7 loss to Rutgers last Saturday in the Carrier Dome and played three series for his first meaningful snaps.
The Mississippi State transfer and redshirt sophomore dual threat finished 4-for-6 for 42 yards while losing six net yards on four rushes, including one sack. The offense produced a pair of 3-and-out series before he led them into field goal range for a missed kick near the end of the half in his only action.
“My biggest thing is I want someone to win it on the field,” Babers said. “Quarterbacks at practice, they don’t get hit and they don’t get touched, so you got to put them on the field and let them do it on the field, and they need to win it on the field.”
DeVito acknowledged that the change in game flow between his time on the bench has made adjusting “rough but doable,” and stated that he believes he has proven himself capable of the spot outright.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” DeVito said. “I’ve done what I have done, and I know exactly what I’ve done, it’s just a coach’s decision. ... I’ve done exactly what I needed to do on this field.”
Shrader was not among the handful of requested players available to media this week.
Babers said the plan to insert Shrader in the second quarter was predetermined for last game and that he didn’t play until the final possession of the 29-9 victory over Ohio the week prior “based on feel.” He did not unveil details on how the potential timeshare could play out Saturday.
“I definitely think that we still want to see both of those guys,” Babers said. “We’re looking to score points, that’s the thing we need to get done, and until we’re totally 100 percent sure on who it is, we need to keep letting them compete.”
Babers has been cleared to conduct the expected QB competition after he came into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday night.
The team released a statement on Thursday to confirm that Babers has produced a negative test result for the virus after undergoing a PCR test on Wednesday morning.
“In accordance with public health guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals who have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, but has received a negative test result, Coach Babers will continue to mask indoors and outdoors when in the presence of others,” the team statement expressed.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Garrett Williams appears poised to return to the SU lineup after leaving the second half of the 17-7 setback against Rutgers with an apparent leg injury and not returning.
Williams was available for media interviews this week, a rarity for an injured player, and said he’s doing good and working with trainers in hopes of getting back for Saturday.
Babers also stated that he was sure Williams would be OK and he was not expecting a long-term issue.
“He has an old-school mentality about him and he is all team-first,” Babers said. “If he can go, he’ll go, so I expect him out there.”
Babers also said that 6-foot-5, 325-pound redshirt junior offensive guard Dakota Davis is very close to making his season debut and that the team was “excited to see what he can do this week.”
Syracuse sophomore Mikel Jones was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Linebacker of the Week following his performance against Rutgers last Saturday.
He led SU with 11 tackles, including a career-high 2 ½ for loss, helping the Orange limit the Scarlet Knights to a 3-for-15 mark on third down and just 195 yards of total offense. Jones ranks ninth in the nation and leads the ACC with an average of 10 ½ tackles per game.
Former SU cornerback Donte Williams was named interim head coach at the University of Southern California earlier this week following the sudden firing of Clay Helton.
Williams played for the Orange in 2003 before transferring to Idaho State. He was previously the cornerbacks coach and defensive pass game coordinator for the Trojans for the last two seasons and added the title of associate head coach last December.
The 39-year-old has 14 years of experience coaching, mostly focusing on defensive backs, and is regarded as a top recruiter. His previous coaching stints include assistant roles at Oregon, Nebraska, Arizona, San Jose State, Washington, Nevada, and multiple junior colleges.
Williams played in five games as a defensive back for SU in 2003.