If you read about SU’s biggest surprises from the season opener at North Carolina, the names found on here are quite similar. The Syracuse week 1 depth chart had unknowns at several positions. Many of the new faces had no previous game experience, but having finished game 1, let’s look at a few guys whose performances warranted their stocks to improve or decline.
- Garrett Williams: The redshirt-freshman had an encouraging debut. He led the team in tackles with nine, which is surprising considering he’s a corner. Williams did very well wrapping up in the open field and preventing big catch and run plays for the Tar Heel receivers. In coverage he was solid. Williams matched up well with Beau Corrales. Both players had their moments, but Williams did well one-on-one and had a pass deflection on the day. Fellow corner Ify Melinfownwu proved he’s a known commodity in the secondary, but it’s nice to know that Williams is capable of holding it down on the other side.
- Mikel Jones: Jones had a good day as well. Unlike some of the other guys on this list, he had some previous game experience as a freshman. He’s built on that and is now the guy in the middle for Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense. Jones played spectacularly in the run game, plugging gaps well and was stout in coverage as he recorded his first career interception in the first quarter. He looks undersized on the television, but at 6 foot-1, 230 pounds he moved well and tackled well. Fans should be excited about Jones going forward.
- Anthony Queeley: Dino Babers mentioned Queeley in his press conference this past Tuesday raving about his fall camp performance. He lived up to that billing tallying four catches for 37 yards. Those numbers aren’t dominant but when 14 was called on to make a play he did just that and showed he can be a number 2 option in the passing game. Queeley got open downfield multiple times and if Devito can make the throws, he can be a dangerous deep threat.
- Sharod Johnson: The redshirt-junior had a tough day. His final stat line came out to 1 catch for -3 yards. The one reception came on a screen where Johnson slipped as he caught the ball. He had his opportunities to shine. One big missed opportunity came early in the 2nd quarter. Johnson ran a beautiful slot fade route, burning the safety, then heads for the back pylon, Tommy Devito drops the ball right in the bucket for him, but it slips through his hands and with it, the game tying touchdown. Those are plays that have to be made and opportunities that have to be taken advantage of. Especially in a time where the run game is struggling and field goals just aren’t gonna get it done. On the bright side, the route was perfect but Johnson just has to put it all together and he’ll have plenty of opportunities going forward.
- Lee Kpogba: The young sophomore is another young player that’s taking his lumps. Kpogba struggled with open-field tackling and gap-filling in the run game. Let’s take a look at two plays in particular. The first is from late in the first quarter. Good coverage from the secondary forces Howell to check it down on 3rd and 7 which is exactly what you want defensively. All Kpogba has to do is wrap up Beau Corrales to force 4th down. Instead, he slips twice and allows 15 to get inside and pick up a drive-extending first down. The second play is from the 3rd quarter. Syracuse is still in the game, down 10-6, and have the Tar Heels behind schedule with 2nd and 9. All that changes when Howell hands off to Micheal Carter on an inside-split zone play. Kpogba flowed inside thinking it was a read option to the right as he’s reading the wing blocker who slide right to block. In the process he lost his B gap responsibility as the left tackle does a great job pushing Cisco up-field. As a result there’s a hole big enough to fit a semi-truck through and a long gainer for Carter. Kpogba’s open field tackling and gap contain must improve going forward or it could be a long season for the front seven.
- Aaron Hackett: The tight end made no impact for the Orange whatsoever. He was good in the screen game as a blocker, but the senior had just one target and no catches. That needs to change going forward because there’s only so much the wide receivers can do if the run game is stalling and the defense continues to drop into zone. With that being said, tight ends do the most damage in the play action passing game and if the run game is of no threat whatsoever, the play action is ineffective. But I’d like to see Babers and Sterlin Gilbert use Hackett more in the red zone and on RPO’s as the season continues.
I didn’t include guys in the stock up section whose stocks have already been up ie, Andre Cisco, Kingsley Jonathan, Taj Harris etc. The players on this list are those who we weren’t sure about. Some took advantage of the opportunity and made a name for themselves, others squandered it and struggled in the opener. That’s the beauty of the college football season though, there are plenty of chances for guys to rise and fall as the season progresses. Look for Johnson, Kpogba, and Hackett to bounce back and improve their stock as the 2020 season plays out.