The running game was supposed to be the strength of the Syracuse offense. Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley were both coming off good seasons and even better performances in the Pinstripe Bowl. Naturally, fans expected this to be a sign of things to come. But the ground game hasn’t really gotten started yet. You could say both Penn State and Northwestern have strong defenses, but the Orange has just not executed well enough.
Against Penn State, the Orange averaged a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. PTG was only able to gain 24 yards on 12 carries; he clearly struggled behind an offensive line that looked disjointed at times. Against Northwestern he was slightly more successful, but the Orange had to move away from the rushing attack after falling behind early. Smith was more productive against Penn State; he was even able to rip off a 22-yard run. But in both contests the running game was not close to where it needs to be for the team to be successful. Like with any other unit, the running backs cannot be totally to blame. Here’s the other culprits:
-The Offensive Line: Behind any successful ground attack is a good line. The Orange lost Justin Pugh and Zack Chibane, who started all 13 games last season. The line simply has not owned the trenches like it needs to for SU to have a chance. It needs to open up holes for Smith, PTG, George Morris II, Devante McFarlene that has not been done yet this year.
-The Passing Game: Often, the running game is thought to set up the passing game, but it can also work the other way around. By consistently having balls thrown off the mark and having receivers drop passes, defenses can devote another man to the run without worrying about the receivers beating them. If Drew Allen showed he could consistently hook up with Aston Broyld, Jarrod West and Beckett Wales, the defense may need to leave the extra safety back just in case Allen pulls the ball back and throws.
-Play calling: The play calling under George McDonald has been questionable. GMcD takes over a position that saw the quarterback, offensive coordinator and (offensive minded) head coach leave for the NFL. So far, the offense just doesn’t look to fit the personnel of the Orange. The running backs had trouble getting into space against Penn State and Northwestern, and the play-calling is partly to blame.
-The Running Backs: Smith hasn’t shown the power yet he displayed last year, and PTG hasn’t been able to break off a big run like we’ve seen in the past, especially in the Pinstripe Bowl.
This week against Wagner should provide a kick-start that the running game, and the offense as a whole, really need. The offensive line made improvements after the Penn State game and looked better against Northwestern. The passing game may not be better, but with news that Allen and Terrel Hunt will get playing time Saturday, maybe a resolution to the air attack struggles aren’t too far off. The play calling shouldn’t be much of a factor against an FCS team like Wagner. The Orange should be able to roll over them due to talent level alone. Smith and PTG could show flashes of their play in the Pinstripe Bowl and back to last year. This week against Wagner should be the turn around for the Orange offense, and if not, maybe then it is time to really panic.
Posted: Seth Goldberg