New York — Dino Babers wanted to be clear after the game: Dan Villari’s explosive play was no surprise to him or his coaching staff.
They were just waiting to give him the right chance to surprise everyone.
Syracuse football moved Villari from quarterback to tight end shortly after he transferred from Michigan following the 2021 season.
He played in seven games in 2022, but had just one catch for 22 yards and no rushing yards.
Then the Orange lost him to a lower body injury from spring camp to fall camp.
“We only got him in September, and back then we had him (Oronde Gadsden I),” Babers said after the game. “We thought he was good. I thought he was good. I had confidence that he was good. But he hadn’t done it on the field.
Villari gave this performance to solidify that he is every adjective Babers believed he was Saturday, serving as the fulcrum of a reworked Syracuse offense in its 28-13 win over Pittsburgh.
The win in the Bronx, just a few miles from Villari’s hometown of Long Island, ended a five-game losing streak and gave the Orange their first ACC win of the season.
Villari was responsible for more than 150 of SU’s 400 yards of offense, recording 154 yards on 17 carries and tacking on for another 12 yards on three carries.
Those numbers more than double everything he’s done this season. His highest yardage total the previous season was 67 yards against Clemson, almost all of which came through the air.
“There were a lot of ups and downs,” Villari said. “Like coach said, I was injured in the spring, so I didn’t really have a full offseason. I feel like I’m hitting my stride now.
Villari has been one of the most outspoken players when it comes to assessing Syracuse’s offensive woes over the past five weeks.
He blamed himself and his teammates for the lack of execution, called out the team for its lack of passion in practice, and was honest in saying he didn’t think the players gave 100 percent to every match.
Babers alluded to the fact that Villari’s heart — and that of Shrader and running back LeQuint Allen — has been a catalyst for revitalizing the offense.
“When you get these three hearts and put them together, you have one hell of a beat,” Babers said.
Villari slipped a play sheet on his wrist, reminiscent of his days as a quarterback, but kept the “tough football” mentality he’s learned since then.
He said it doesn’t take much to get back into that headspace. He took several Wildcat snaps, attempted more passes than veteran Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader, and called a few plays on the offensive line.
About 75 family members and friends were on hand at Yankee Stadium to watch Villari on the biggest night of his college career.
Babers said Villari asked if he could speak with the media first, eager to go celebrate the victory with his loved ones.
“It’s very satisfying … to give them a show,” Villari said. “They were always there for me in tough times when I was still a quarterback and I wasn’t playing. It was really special to do it here.
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