Rhino is stampeding to Tallahassee for a Syracuse team that is better than when he left it.
Everyone knew, heading into the season, the Orange’s offensive forte is the run game. Sean Tucker’s breakout freshman season was a great omen, and to have such a relentless runner behind elite run blockers was supposed to be a first down cheat code.
That all changed when Chris Elmore was mysteriously benched due to a violation of team rules for the opener against Ohio, and the game after that, and the game after that, and the game after that. Through the first four weeks of the season, Elmore was in street clothes watching the run game carry the offense, as advertised. But the 6-foot, 265 pound fifth-year senior will suit up this Saturday against Florida State.
Maximillian Mang stepped up in Elmore’s absence. The German second year freshman earned his stripes against the Bobcats when Tucker ran for a career best 181 yards. Mang proved his worth again when Tucker went for 132 rushing yards against Albany and 169 last week against Liberty. The offense got 75% of its production on the Flames from the ground game.
“Max did a great, great job,” LT Matthew Bergeron said after Syracuse’s win over Liberty. “Oh man, he was making great calls. He’s a great run blocker. He’s got to get a lot of credit for what he’s doing out there, too.”
So with Tucker well on his way to 1,000 yards, something that Elmore pledged to help him accomplish before the season, it’s fair to wonder how much better the run protection can possibly be. Even so, Elmore will step in as the full time fullback. Mang will likely step in as needed. Luke Benson suffered a lower body injury in the first quarter against Albany. Since then, Mang is the only active rotational tight end. He had one catch against the Great Danes, but is not nearly as reliable of a receiver as Benson is. The good news for SU is that Benson fully participated in warmups before the Liberty game. But for now, even with more depth coming in, Syracuse is still without a receiving tight end, which is a position OC Sterlin Gilbert did not use too much last season. The entire tight end room accounted for just 16 catches and 123 yards in 2020.
It will be interesting to see if Gilbert uses Elmore and Mang together. Gilbert did not experiment much with Aaron Hackett and Benson on the field simultaneously too much last season. Then again, this year’s duo are primarily run blockers, unlike their 2020 counterparts. If Elmore doesn’t completely take Mang’s role away, it will likely be because Elmore needs to stay rested for the red zone. Mang has much more speed, and is a lot better suited as Tucker’s blocker between the 20 yard-lines with the breakaway speed and pass catching ability he has exhibited over the past month.