The Syracuse backfield will look pretty similar to last year. Dontae Strickland and Moe Neal will headline the group and our expected to get essentially all the carries again. The only difference is the two will have another year of experience and on paper better run protection in front of them.
Behind Strickland and Neal is a deep group of youngsters looking to prove they deserve some touches this fall. Leading the pack, presumably, is sophomore Markenzy Pierre. In his maiden voyage, Pierre averaged 3.6 yards a tout on 25 rushes.
Freshman Jarveon Howard will look to rise the totem pole. Howard, who is a high-rated incoming recruit that spurned offers from several SEC schools, checks in right around 200 pounds. He’s probably the best bet to be a “breakout” candidate and maybe even see real playing time.
Star of the Group: Dontae Strickland
Strickland is going to be the starter. Nothing about his game is flashy. He doesn’t have breakaway speed or open field jukes like Moe Neal. But Strickland is an experienced back that has improved every year. Not to mention, he’s the best blocking back Syracuse has to offer. He may of only averaged 3.7 yards a pop last year, but expect that to improve as the offensive line improves this year as well.
Something to Prove: Moe Neal
While Strickland will be the starter, his ceiling is only so high. Neal, the potential lightning to his thunder, though, has the upside to change the landscape of SU’s ground attack this fall. He’s been somewhat underwhelming since taking his first collegiate carry to the house. Although, in his defence, he hasn’t gotten tons of touches. When the now junior got starter-level action in the final three regular season games last year after Strickland went down, he rushed for at least 86 yards in all three contests. We know Neal is a homerun hitter. He broke out some huge plays in the passing and running game last year. Now, after adding almost 20 pounds in the offseason, it’s time for Neal to prove he can hit for contact too and improve his between-the-tackles running, pass protection and consistency.
Strickland might not be the best back in the ACC, but he’s gotten about as many backfield reps as pretty much anyone else in the conference. He knows the offense and can pick out defensive coverages well because of his experience. Plus, Neal will now be a junior and in his third year under the Babers regime as well.
Weakness: First Down Runs
Close your eyes and try and remember the last time you saw Syracuse on a 1st and 10 move the chains on a rushing play. Yeah, I can’t remember one either. Obviously, that’s not something that happens often to even teams with strong ground games, but the amount of times Syracuse had to settle for 2nd and 9 and 2nd and 8’s last year because of a non-existent running game was toxic. When the Orange faced top notch defensive lines like Clemson, it virtually had to rely strictly on passing. You can’t beat anyone, let alone ACC opponents being that one dimensional.
You don’t have to follow Syracuse football too closely to know, the running game has been a disappointment for awhile now. It’s easy to point blame at Strickland and the backs themselves. However, the guys in the trenches in front of them have not made life easy. That being said, I expect SU’s offensive line to improve this year. Don’t be surprised if Moe Neal blossoms into the go-to-back late. The ceiling isn’t that high for this unit, but even a slight improvement could determine whether SU goes bowling or not.
Be sure to keep it locked here at orangefizz.net and on Twitter @OrangeFizz to keep up with all of our positional previews. Check out our other positional previews with the 2018 season right around the corner:
DEFENSE: Defensive End (8/8) | Defensive Tackle (8/20) | Linebacker (8/22) | Cornerback (8/17) | Safety
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter/Kicker (8/15) | Return Specialists (8/24)