After an interesting first weekend of college football, Syracuse and its faithful supporters are itching for some on-field competition. The first weekend qualified as interesting because there were definitely some kinks that teams had to work out.
The Orange begin their season on September 4th at Ohio. The Bobcats only played three games last year, but in those three contests, their rushing attack was superb. SU is going to have to turn to a somewhat questionable front seven to stop a great ground game that averaged over 215 yards per contest.
Syracuse is automatically at a disadvantage when it comes to stopping the run. There is already an immense amount of pressure on linebackers in any system to be the backbone of a defense, but in the 3-3-5, it’s upped about five more levels. Yes, the defensive backs are certainly the most talented of the position groups, but pitting a nickel back on an offensive guard isn’t a recipe for success. Tony White’s LB group has to improve its gap control and tackling.
Why Syracuse Needs Him
That last paragraph is why Mikel Jones is number four on the Fizz’s List of Top 10 Most Important Players. Without his steady hand in the middle of the Syracuse defense, the front six is going to get gashed game after game. Jones is also the key to continuing the Orange turnover machine that Andre Cisco and Trill Williams fueled in past seasons.
SU’s run defense was second-worst in the ACC last season, giving up a clip of 209 yards per game. The Orange were even gashed by lowly Duke, but Jones flashed his skillset, recording 13 tackles against the Blue Devils, tying a SU single-game season record. When all was said and done, the IMG Academy product led the team with 69 tackles. He was also a turnover machine, leading LBs nationwide with four interceptions, the most in the ACC, and forcing three fumbles. Regardless of the game situation, you could always count on Jones to give his best effort in 2020 and hawk the pigskin. Syracuse figures to be in a couple of rough spots this year, and White will count on his junior leader to rally the troops.
Best Case Scenario
If all goes as planned, Jones should have an all-ACC caliber season. Last year, he was honorable mention All-ACC after a Pro Football Focus All-Freshman Third Team selection in 2019. Assuming Syracuse gets a full 12-game schedule in, Jones should have around 80 tackles, and be involved in upwards of six turnovers. He’ll be a dark horse choice for the Butkus award (probably won’t win because of SU’s lack of team success). Jones’ draft stock should skyrocket, and he could have the potential to leave school after the season for professional opportunities.
Worst Case Scenario
Teams should certainly be game planning for the Orange’s best linebacker. Don’t be surprised if there are multiple run schemes designed to keep the rock away from Jones, cutting him off with blockers or spreading the football to the perimeter. To be honest, that won’t have much of an effect, as the 6-foot-1, 220 pounder is quick enough to get to the sidelines and make tackles.
The worry is an injury. Jones hasn’t missed a game in his time in the 315, and if his draft stock does skyrocket this season, he could potentially opt out of the remainder of the season à la Trill Williams to protect his body and prepare for the NFL. Little bumps and bruises certainly build up over time, and with the immense pressure of stopping run after run, Jones will take a lot of hits.
There’s the reasoning for Mikel Jones at number four on the Fizz’s Top 10 list. Check back in on Monday to learn the first of our top three.
Monday, August 16 – #10 Garrett Shrader
Wednesday, August 18 – #9 Matthew Bergeron
Friday, August 20 – #8 Josh Black
Sunday, August 22 – #7 Anthony Queeley
Tuesday, August 24 – #6 Airon Servais
Thursday, August 26 – #5 Garrett Williams
Saturday, August 28 – #4 Mikel Jones
Monday, August 30 – #3 ?
Wednesday, September 1 – #2 ?
Friday, September 3 – #1 ?