Through four weeks of the 2017 season, Syracuse starting running back Dontae Strickland is averaging just 3 yards per carry. That’s the lowest among Orange backs besides Tyrone Perkins’ 9 yards on five carries. In fact, the only other players on the roster it beats are Rex Culpepper (whose only rush is a four-yard sack), Zach Mahoney (three runs for 6 yards). It hasn’t been a great start to the 2017 campaign for Strickland, who plays as the undisputed starter for the first time as a junior. It won’t get any easier from here. Six of the Orange’s eight ACC opponents were top 25 run defenses last season, and NC State was second among ACC schools at No. 8 (if that surprised you, Boston College was No. 7). Dontae Strickland will have to beat the best and play better than he ever has in Orange to contribute the rest of the season.
As mentioned above, NC State isn’t the only school on SU’s schedule who knows how to stop the run. Here’s the full list of ACC schools who were Top 25 in run defense last year:
No. 7 – Boston College
No. 8 – NC State
No. 12 – Louisville
No. 16 – Pittsburgh
No. 21 – Florida State
No. 24 – Clemson
It doesn’t stop there. If you extend the rankings 10 more positions you’ll find Miami (No. 26), Virginia (32) and Wake Forest (33). LSU was No. 13 last season, and Strickland managed just 27 yards last weekend against the Tigers. For the record, the Orange clocked in at No. 108 out of 128 FBS teams.
As you may have noticed, not all of these teams are the cream of the crop in the ACC. NC State, Wake Forest and BC all had just seven wins, and Virginia went 2-10 with its elite rush defense. None of that matters for the Orange, though. There are some teams in the ACC and on that list Syracuse could beat with its passing game, but not many. The Orange needs its running game to establish a passing game. It’s what Dino Babers has done at his previous stops, and through four games Strickland isn’t getting it done. He hasn’t rushed for more than 45 yards all season despite getting double-digit carries in each of the Orange’s first three games.
Dontae Strickland came to Syracuse in 2015 with hype surrounding him. He was in the conversation for starting running back as a freshman, but playing seven of the country’s top run defenses in eight weeks probably isn’t what he had in mind back then. Syracuse is painfully trying to jump-start its running game, but the clock is running out for Strickland to show the Orange staff he is the man for the job. Moe Neal is the more explosive and efficient option in the passing game, so Strickland has to find value on the ground or find a seat on the bench soon. There isn’t time for 3 yards per carry in the ACC.