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The Genius Behind SU’s Prolific Running Game

A fresh rendition of Syracuse football is coming up quick folks! Fall camp gets underway in just a few days and from there it’s all downhill to SU’s season opener in the Dome against Louisville. There are a lot of questions (as there usually are with this team) heading into the season. Can Syracuse get its passing game going? How will the new coordinators mesh? Can the defensive line be serviceable? All of these unknowns will get answered in some capacity this fall.

Here are two question’s nobody is wondering about. How’s the run game going to be? Can the offensive line matchup in the ACC.

Syracuse came out of nowhere last year and exponentially improved in the trenches and as a result, revamped its ground attack. In 2020, SU ranked dead last in the conference garnering a meager 92 yards per game. On top of that, the ‘Cuse was the worst third down conversion squad and the 3rd most sacked power five team allowing over three sacks per outing (119 overall out of 127 teams). Furthermore, Syracuse had a 100-yard rushing output from a single player in three of its eleven games. Sean Tucker owns three of those performances with Cooper Lutz claiming one as well when both backs surpassed the century mark against Notre Dame.

The Orange were much improved in each of the above categories in 2021. Syracuse improved from the worst rushing team in the ACC to the BEST team in the conference. The run game exploded from 92 yards per game to over 213! Additionally, SU was still the worst third down conversion team but it increased its success rate from 26% to 33%. In terms of pass protection, the ‘Cuse was better (not that hard to do). The offensive line allowed under 3 sacks per game which was good for a tie at 106 with Troy. That’s definitely not great still but hey its improvement. Finally, the Orange recorded a dozen 100-yard rushing efforts. Sean Tucker stakes claim to nine of those, Garrett Shrader the other three.

So what changed between 2020 and 2021?

Maybe it was Garrett Shrader’s insertion to the offense with his dual-threat skills. Maybe it was the 2022 Heisman contender Sean Tucker breaking out. Or maybe it was the addition of offensive line coach and run game coordinator Mike Schmidt to the Syracuse staff.

Schmidt previously worked at San Diego State and had a very lengthy and successful stint with the Aztecs. In one year at Syracuse, the former SDSU defensive lineman led his unit to the fifth most prolific rushing effort. This hire fell criminally under the radar one year ago and one year later, it’s safe to say it was a home run.

“It was a great step last year. I think Coach Schmidt is the biggest part of that. We’re building off of our success last year  in the run game and I’m really excited about next season,” said Matthew Bergeron.

Bergeron was one of two All-ACC selections coached by Schmidt one year ago, Airon Servais was the other. The Canadien is back for his junior season and second year under the veteran offensive line coach. Bergeron says Schmidt’s unique coaching style reaps success in the future.

“Coach Schmidt puts you with guys in practice that you’re not used to working with. When it comes down to the end of the season where you got to play with a dude you’ve never played with, you’re already on the same page we got the same communication style and stuff.”

This coaching style is promising to learn about. Offensive line rooms are very prone to injuries so it’s critical to have a solid top eight or nine guys who can come in and play competent football. With Schmidt’s rotating approach, the Orange should be well equipped to move the football no matter which five are on the field. Just how deep is the SU o-line room this year? We’ll let Bergeron fill you in.

“8-9 deep. We got a lot of young guys that really stepped up in spring ball. We got a great rotation going, guys are healthy compared to the last two years. We got 8-9 guys who are ready to play and are healthy.”

Syracuse has to replace the production of Servais at center. Bergeron said Carlos Vetterello has been training at both and has quality experience lining up at both positions. However, the All-conference left tackle believes the redshirt-junior will end up staying at right tackle. If that’s the case, SU will need to find a new answer in the heart of its front five. With Schmidt’s proven track record and early success though, Orange Nation should be confident that an answer will be found.

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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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