Syracuse finally showed some semblance of a running game this past Saturday and Dontae Strickland had the game we had all been waiting for. The junior was the focal point of the offense on the last drive and racked up a season-high 80 yards. However, while Strickland stepped up, fellow tailback Moe Neal could do nothing but watch from the sideline.
Like Strickland, the sophomore Neal has been up and down so far this season. But Saturday was officially rock bottom for Neal. He didn’t get a single touch for the first time all season against the Panthers. Now I understand why Strickland was out there on SU’s final drive and I’m not saying Neal should be the primary rusher, but Syracuse simply has to find a way to incorporate him in the offense. Neal’s one of the fastest guys on the roster and perhaps SU’s hardest player to bring down in the open field. I mean his 70 yard run against CMU and 55 yard TD catch against CCSU proved that. I know those didn’t come against strong competition but you can’t deny that Neal has playmaking ability that few can rival on the Syracuse roster.
The Orange offense has taken an unexpected step back in year two under Babers due to a multitude of things but one clear missing component for SU this season has been the big play. Without the luxury of deep threat Amba Etta-Tawo this year, Syracuse has completed very few home-run plays against any team not named Central Connecticut State. In the Orange’s worst offensive performance of the season against Shafer and MTSU, Dungey didn’t complete a pass longer than 16 yards. And on Saturday, SU’s longest play from scrimmage was a 35 yard touchdown to Steve Ishmael. The Babers offense is never going to be known for long 9 or 10 play scoring drives; it thrives when the opposition gets tired and starts missing tackles in the open field. In order to get back to last year’s production, Syracuse needs to start making big plays again.
As much as Strickland showed improvement on Saturday, he is never going to be a big play threat. The junior has just two runs over 10 yards the entire year and his longest to date was a 12 yard scamper against CCSU. Neal, on the other hand, is a big play waiting to happen. In less touches throughout the past year and a half, the North Carolina native has already accumulated over 30 yards on eight separate plays.
I don’t quite know whether Neal is a wide-out or a running back at this point and I don’t really care where he ends up lining up on offense; I just know that Syracuse simply needs to use him more. The Orange needs to find a way to get him the ball in the open field and let him do his thing. One target and zero touches like he had against Pitt is just a waste of his talent. After underutilizing Ravian Pierce for the first five weeks of the season, SU finally reaped his rewards Saturday. Now it’s time the Orange makes a consensus effort to give Neal more attention because he could be the X factor that gets this stale SU offense going.