The hype train has been chugging along since the Georgia Tech win in 2020. Sean Tucker replaced Jawhar Jordan and Markenzy Pierre and took 24 carries for 112 yards and a two touchdowns, not bad for a true freshman. From there Tucker crossed the century mark twice against Liberty and Notre Dame before SU ended its season 1-10. Obviously a rough season, but that’s not to say there wasn’t a glimmer of hope that the Orange had a superstar on their hands.
The 2021 season emphasized everyone’s inclinations the ball carrier toted the rock 25 times to the tune of 181 yards and a score against the University of Ohio. Three months later, the Maryland native staked claim to nine 100+ yard rushing performances on the year. The All-American didn’t have the option to go pro with the eligibility guidelines so he of course decided to return to the Hill.
In the summer, you saw all the tweets and all the clips. H34ISMAN! #PL34SED! Sean Tucker for Heisman! Well now everybody knows who 34 in Orange and Navy is and they are making it their mission to shut him down. First it was Purdue who found a way to bottle up the talented running back. Tucker was held to 42 yards on 18 carries and didn’t find the end zone against the Boilermakers. Then Virginia copied the engineers blueprint and constricted Tucker to 60 rush yards on 21 takes.
Now, let’s not forget, Syracuse is still winning these ballgames. The Orange are 4-0 and barring some insane act of the supernatural, will be 5-0 come this time next week. SU hasn’t started its season with five straight wins since 1987. So yeah, the wins keep coming, but against better competition like NC State, Clemson, and Notre Dame, the ‘Cuse will need its run game. So why is the ground attack struggling? Let’s roll the tape and see if we can find the answer.
Reason #1: Stacking the Box
On pretty much every 1st or 2nd down, Purdue would place 7-8, sometimes even 9 guys inside the box to shut down the run. The Boilermakers had some big, stocky defenders who could really clog holes and get downhill to do some damage. Syracuse is going to run into players of similar body type and even more athleticism against Clemson, Notre Dame, Pitt etc. SU needed to make plays with the passing game and win one-on-one battles to beat the Boilermakers. And they did…
Reason #2: Play Calling
The Fizz spoke with Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong during the summer at the 2022 ACC Kickoff. We asked him his thoughts on Robert Anae and a lot of what he said was stuff you’d want to hear. However, the lefty thrower also said that sometimes Anae can get in a “gunslinger” mentality and abandon the run game. That’s what you see in these two examples.
The situations are 1st and 10 and 3rd and a short three yards. On both of these plays, Syracuse opted to pass. Now, we aren’t going to sit here and knock Anae and whoever made this play call. However, in SU’s last two games it was clear what Virginia’s strategy was. The Cavs wanted a hat on a hat so they put 7 or 8 guys between the tackles in an effort to stop up the run game. So when you get a more favorable 6 man box, why not run the ball? You’ve got an All-American running back and a solid offensive line at the least. This won’t be the last time the Orange see boxes full of foam peanuts as the season progresses. Two things need to happen for Syracuse to be successful: hit big plays in the open space in one-on-one matchups and don’t forget to run the darn ball when you get a friendly box.