SYRACUSE — The Syracuse University football team plans to illustrate the Anae-and-Beck effect for a familiar foe and a national audience tonight.
Syracuse (3-0 overall, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) and its resurgent offense will take center stage for an ACC clash against Virginia (2-1, 0-0) at 7 tonight in the JMA Wireless Dome. SU is favored by 9.5 points as of Thursday, according to Caesars Sportsbook, for the ESPN-televised matchup.
The Orange is in pursuit of its 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 held the same positions with the Cavaliers for the previous six years.
“I would assume it’s probably personal for (Anae), so I think everybody wants to come out and show that we can perform his offense as well as they did last year,” SU wide receiver Courtney Jackson said.
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers hired Anae and Beck last December to continue as a tandem and revamp the SU passing offense, a task on which they have instantly delivered.
The duo masterminded the third-ranked unit in total offense and the No. 2 passing attack at Virginia last season, while SU finished as a bottom 10 FBS pass unit. Through the first three games this year, the Orange ranks ahead of the Cavaliers through the air with each led by the same quarterback as 2021.
Syracuse is one of only four FBS teams that has yet to turn the ball over and one of 19 to maintain a perfect red-zone scoring percentage — no other team remains unblemished in both categories.
SU quarterback Garrett Shrader is responsible for 68 points, the sixth-most in the nation entering the week, and he ranks fourth in the ACC for completion rate at 66.2 percent. Shrader has thrown for eight touchdowns, which is one shy of matching his total from last year, and is tied with Caleb Williams of Southern Cal for the third most TD passes without an interception in the FBS.
Shrader has nearly doubled his pass yardage output per game this year after averaging just 120 pass yards, completing 52 percent of his passes, and tossing nine TDs to four picks in 2021.
“It’s a combination of a few things, obviously play-calling and coaching is the first step to that, putting us in the right positions to be successful, and I think just us playing together brings it all together,” Jackson said.
“I think (Anae) is a leader, he’s the head of the offense, and he knows what everything is supposed to look like,” Jackson added. “If it’s not his certain way, we’ll do it again until we make sure it’s right. I think execution is the biggest thing with him, he just wants to keep everybody on track and make sure we’re all pushing to be better.”
Virginia’s offense is experiencing an initial dip in its first season under new head coach Tony Elliott, a former Clemson offensive assistant for the prior 11 years.
The Cavaliers are down more than 100 yards per game to rank 72nd in the FBS in total offense (413), with just 236.7 yards on average through the air to enter 81st nationally and 10th in the ACC. Their top-three units accounted for 515.8 yards per game last year with 392.6 via 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 has completed 52.9 percent of his passes to go with two TD strikes and three interceptions this year.
Armstrong and his top three receivers — Keytaon Thompson, Dontayvion Wicks, and Lavel Davis Jr. — are all key returners from the Anae-Beck tenure.
“It’s an emotional game when you got your old family and you’re in front of them again, and those kids are going to want to prove something as well, that: ‘Hey, I’m all grown up, I can ride this bike without the training wheels without you being here,’” Babers said.
“I’m sure it will be an emotional game, there will be some hugs and hellos before or after, either way it doesn’t bother me, the game is the game,” Babers added. “But as a family, we need to understand that it’s bigger than all that. It’s about Syracuse versus Virginia, and we need to bottle up that emotion.”
Syracuse is unranked but received votes in the most recent Associated Press Top 25 for the first time this year and garnered selections in the Coaches Poll for the third straight week.
The Orange, which will next face FCS-level Wagner at 5 p.m. on Oct. 1, most recently opened 4-0 in 2018 and 1991.