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The Biggest Takeaways from the SU Spring Game

Photo Courtesy of Syracuse Athletics

So nice to have even a taste of Syracuse football! If that game doesn’t have you fired up for the fall then well I can’t blame you considering SU hasn’t met expectations recently. However, this is the most talented team Dino Babers has ever had in his time on the Hill. The ‘Cuse returns 17 of its 22 starters, 88% of its production on the offensive end and 62% of its contributions on the defensive ends, per ESPN’s Bill Connolly.

Now what most of us hoped to see in this little scrimmage was change in the places that required it. So specifically on the offensive side of things, how different would the scheme look? To be honest, it didn’t look a whole lot different. Syracuse deployed a lot of similar formations with heavy wide receiver sets and empty backfields. However, you must take a lot of stuff from April Fools Day’s festivities with a grain of salt. Babers and Company don’t want to bleed their hand before everyone’s even anted up. With that said, here are the biggest takeaways:

Syracuse Has Legit RB Depth

Here at the Fizz, we’ve been hyping up some of the lesser known running backs for quite some time now. Sean Tucker didn’t dress for the spring game and why should he? There’s absolutely zero sense in risking an injury in a meaningless game in the grand scheme of things. So that gave guys like Juwaun Price and LeQuint Allen a chance to show what they can do.

We dubbed Price the “next big thing” for SU football and well, he proved us right. The New Mexico State transfer looked like the aforementioned Tucker on Ernie Davis Legends Field. The former Aggie displayed good patience, vision, and breakaway speed. Price can certainly be a viable #2 option for this rushing attack in the fall.

Allen popped as well in his first real opportunity under the spotlight. The former New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year drew rave reviews from Babers and teammates in the weeks leading up to Friday’s game. The true frosh revealed his scat back abilities as a burner on the ground and receiver through the air. Allen has a bright future ahead of him, just watch this if you disagree.

The Defensive Line Might Be Better Than Anticipated

Speculation regarding the defensive line was certainly warranted. SU returns zero consistent starters from that unit and now calls upon players that have never shouldered such a massive load. The unit surpassed expectations though and was dominant albeit against the second-string offensive unit led by Dan Villari and JaCobian Morgan. Either way there were some bright spots and it appears as thought defensive coordinator Tony White has his top three solidified at this juncture.

Redshirt-junior Caleb Okechukwu and true sophomore Terry Lockett stepped into starting roles as expected at defensive end and tackle, respectively. Who would join them though? For a majority of the contest it was redshirt-frosh Jatius Geer battling alongside them in the trenches. The South Carolina native played in just one game last year ago but has appeared to have broken onto the scene and grabbed a stranglehold of the third starting job in the defensive trenches.

The 6’6, 243 lb. defensive end was a disruptor all evening against the second string offense. Geer displayed some flashes as a pass rusher and got his nose dirty against the Orange team’s rushing attack. Syracuse needed to find someone to fill the right side of its d-line, Geer appears to be that guy (for now).

Freshmen like Francois Nolton Jr. and Denis Jaquez Jr. got a lot of reps with the second-string defense and looked solid. The coaching staff has said they have a long way to go but Nolton Jr. lived up to his four-star billing. The Army All-American had a sack and nearly had another when he walloped Luke MacPhail in the backfield for what should have been an incomplete pass.

‘Cuse Has No Lack of Options at WR

It’s not about the “Jimmy’s and Joe’s” with the wideouts, it’s all about the “X’s and O’s.” Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae and outside receivers coach Michael Johnson have a whole arsenal stocked full of weapons for the passing game. Courtney Jackson and Devaughn Cooper looked comfortable in the slot as expected. Damien Alford had a big play touchdown down the sideline reminiscent of some home runs he reeled in last year.

Two players that really turned heads were Umari Hatcher and Donovan Brown. Hatcher recorded the first touchdown of the game on a downfield strike from Justin Lamson. The Virginia native showed everyone why a lot of eastern powerhouses wanted him on the recruiting trail two years ago. Brown is just a true freshman but he looked like a veteran out there. In the second half of the spring game, he was MacPhail’s go to guy.

Syracuse is absolutely stacked in the wideout room, now it’s all about getting their playmakers the football.

Tony White’s Defensive is Loaded

If this defense only returns 62% of its defense and it looks as dominant as it did on Friday, then it could end up being the best in the ACC. We already hashed out the situation in the trenches, Syracuse looks like it’ll be at least okay there. Behind that defensive line is three of the best linebackers in the conference. Mikel Jones, Stefon Thompson, and Marlowe Wax have All-ACC talent. With a young and evergreen defensive front, the onus will fall upon this trio to fill the void (literally) and hold this unit together like super glue.

Moving back to the secondary, Syracuse is two-deep at rover with either Justin Barron or Rob Hanna. The corner spots are all but locked up with Duce Chestnut on island and Garrett Williams inhabiting the other. The nickel and safety spots are really where things can get interesting. So Jason Simmons Jr. and Eric Coley are back. However, White also has Jahad Carter who has plenty of experience. There’s also transfers like Alijah Clark from Rutgers and Bralyn Oliver from Louisville.

Both Oliver and Carter snared interceptions in the spring game. At points in 2021, the safeties struggled with downfield coverage. It should be a welcome sight for White and SU fans alike to see that there are options for the top of the defense. Position battles at safety and nickel could go all the way down to the wire come this fall.

Justin Lamson QB1?

Yeah he looked like a Heisman Trophy winner against the second-string defense. However, what Lamson did was still impressive finishing 7-10, for 151 yards, and two touchdown tosses. We witnessed a Syracuse quarterback spin the pigskin like nobody has in some time inside the Carrier Dome (at least someone who was sporting the Orange and Blue). If Garrett Shrader doesn’t take the next step he needs too as a passer, perhaps the redshirt-freshman Lamson can push for some playing time. Don’t forget, the former top-20 dual-threat signal caller recruit can also tote the rock and Anae was making it a point to allow Lamson to flash his running game.

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The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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