SU Football Retrospective: About the Offense
By Patrick Gunn
Syracuse Football (1-7, 1-6 Atlantic Coast) has an abysmal offense. This is nothing new, as I wrote several weeks ago about how poor they have been on offense.
With that said, there has been some personnel changes since I wrote my original article. Namely, at Quarterback. Tommy DeVito has missed the last four games with a leg injury. Since, two quarterbacks, Redshirt Senior Rex Culpepper and Freshman JaCobian Morgan, have started under center.
Given those changes, I thought it would be interesting to see how much has changed since DeVito went down. Remarkably, not much has changed. Take a look at the numbers and they show a stark lack of change.
|Games DeVito Started (4)||Games DeVito Hasn’t Started (4)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||21.7||26.5|
The Orange have only scored two fewer points per game without DeVito. The yards per game have gone up, but that has mainly come from the rushing attack; their passing attack under Culpepper and Morgan has essentially contributed the same amount of yardage as it did with DeVito.
Why is that so? Well, part of that comes from QB play. Rex Culpepper has taken the majority of the snaps since DeVito went down and he’s been less than stellar. He only completed 47.3 percent of his passes in his three starts.
Also, that massive jump in turnovers? That also can be credited mostly to Culpepper, as he has thrown six interceptions and lost three fumbles in his starts. That’s eight of SU’s 10 turnovers right there. He has just been too erratic to keep the off flowing.
Morgan, over his past two starts, has been a welcome improvement. He has been far from perfect, but he has handled pressure much better and, more importantly, been accurate. Yes, both of his touchdowns have come in the last two-minutes of games, but that’s better than nothing. And he’s easily been SU’s most accurate passer (70.3 percent completion rate in two games).
Aside from them, the rest of SU’s skills players have not contributed enough to make a noticeable difference. Taj Harris still leads SU with 507 receiving yards, but his production has slowed down. He was benched against Clemson after making an inappropriate gesture at the camera during the Liberty game, and then followed that up with a three catch, 12 yard performance against Wake Forest. He looked lost on the field in that game, not creating enough space and pulling in the catches he usually makes. Harris is a solid number two or three wideout, but he is clearly not consistent enough to be a number one target.
After Harris, Anthony Queeley has made some nice plays but his overall totals (averaging 49.3 yards/game in SU’s last four games) are nothing to write home about. Ditto Nykeim Johnson’s performances, although he has played great in SU’s return game. Aside from them, not much has changed from the receiving core, they just are not as strong.
And the tight ends. In my last piece, the combination of Luke Benson and Aaron Hackett had combined to make just four catches. They are now up to 11 total catches, with Hackett adding five over the past four games and Benson only gaining two. They’ve only averaged a total of 13.8 yards per game, a disappointing number considering the talent on hand. Again, not much of a change.
The one area that has changed (somewhat) is the running back core. Sean Tucker missed SU’s game against Wake Forest but has been still a solid contributor. He did make his first fumble of the season against Boston College, but he’s averaged 5.4 yards per carry. He should still be an active contributor.
With that said, I will make one revision to my prior offense, thanks to Cooper Lutz. The wide receiver-turned running back played a solid game in Tucker’s absence against Wake Forest, with 81 rushing yards on 15 carries. He even added 25 yards through the air. However, he was nonexistent against BC, only getting three carries and three receptions, with most of those touches coming on the final drive of the game.
SU’s best offenses over the past few years have come from a running back by committee group. In 2017 and 2018, Dontae Strickland and Moe Neal combined to average 1,213.5 yards per season. Last year, Neal, Abdul Adams, and Jarveon Howard contributed a total of 1,519 yards on the ground. Even with a weaker group, SU should be willing to give more players touches, or at least include Lutz more.
Which brings me to the worst development: SU’s play calling. The Orange are trying to play the same type of games they had with Eric Dungey and DeVito under center and they just do not have the talent to make those same types of plays. You think that would lead to more creative, smart, and thoughtful play calling, but SU has gone in the other direction.
Take one play from last week’s game against Boston College. SU had a third an eight from their own 38. They ran a straight quarterback Rushing play, a questionable play call given the lack of QB runs and SU’s horrible O-Line. As expected, the play was dead on arrival and SU lost three yards.
That’s what is most troubling about this Syracuse offense. Yes, the Orange’s core group is weaker, but Offensive Coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and Dino Babers have not done enough to make plays. And, with only three games left, those changes might not come until a long winter of introspection and shakeups.
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