Let’s first get this out of the way– there weren’t too many positives for Syracuse on Saturday. The Orange got whooped by North Carolina, in a game that the Tar Heels really didn’t play to their best potential. However, there has been enough negativity about SU, so let’s look on the bright side. Here are the three players who surprisingly stood out and impressed during the season opener.
Heading into this season, the linebacker position was expected to be Syracuse’s biggest weakness. The Orange have a lot of new faces and a brand new defensive scheme. Despite all of that, Mikel Jones was surprisingly impressive. The sophomore recorded six tackles and, more importantly, one interception. He seemed to understand the new defense well and was in the right places a majority of the time. Jones got better and better throughout last year and after the UNC game seems like he improved over the offseason as well.
There wasn’t much to be happy with on the offensive side of the ball on Saturday. Syracuse couldn’t get anything going in the run game and Tommy DeVito was either being sacked or throwing horrible balls when he dropped back. The only glimmer, and when I say glimmer I mean tiny glimmer, of hope was the play of Anthony Queely. Taj Harris led the receivers in yards and receptions, but that was expected. What wasn’t expected was Queeley to take the number two spot and haul in four catches for 37 yards. The redshirt sophomore didn’t record a single reception last season and was mostly only a special teamer. After his performance against North Carolina, however, he has earned a spot on the SU offense and could be a solid WR2 or WR3 depending on if Nykeim Johnson wants to get it together.
If you told me that Garrett Williams was in his first career start for Syracuse, I would have been shocked. But it is true. The North Carolina game was the redshirt freshman’s first start and first game ever for the Orange. Despite that, Williams was super impressive. He tallied nine tackles and was an issue in the passing game, breaking up one toss from Sam Howell. Williams was very comfortable out there and flew to the ball. He still has four years of eligibility left, so I’d start getting to know the name Garrett Williams because he’ll be around for a long, long time.
The obvious answers of Andre Cisco, Iffy Melifonwu and Trill Williams also were impressive, but that is expected. Melifonwu tallied two pass breakups, which is a quarter of the number he had all last year. It was a solid start to the season for the redshirt junior. Despite the disappointing game, the Orange got both some surprising and reassuring individual performances. That’s something to at least build on.