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How Can Syracuse Replace Chris Elmore and Stefon Thompson?

SU boosted its chances at a bowl berth this year with a massive season opening win against Louisville over the weekend. Syracuse was dominant throughout the contest and certainly rid itself of the sour taste U of L has left in its mouth in the past few years. Unfortunately, this big win came at a high cost. The Orange lost two of their best players to injury and both will miss the remainder of the season after just four quarters of action.

Now, these injuries did happen in the first half and Dino Babers and Company still found ways to dominate the rest of the way. However, Syracuse has several tough games on the horizon and would’ve benefitted greatly from being at full strength. Can SU recover and find other players/methods to withstand the losses? This might be the biggest looming question of the season going forward.

Stefon Thompson

No disrespect to Chris Elmore, but this may be the more impactful of the two injuries. Syracuse had a linebacker unit that was touted as one of the best in both the ACC and the country. The unit looked dominant when it was in full force, no pun intended. SU was shutting down Malik Cunningham on the ground and through the air and getting off the field on third down. Then Thompson went down on a contact injury and was sidelined the rest of the game. The defender ends his season with three tackles, and half a tackle for loss.

In Thompson’s place, Derek McDonald was asked to step up into the spotlight and step up he did. The converted linebacker recorded a half tackle for loss and a wrap up but his biggest play and perhaps the play of the game was his interception late in the third quarter.

The Atlanta native picked off Cunningham while sitting in deep zone coverage on a third and long and returned it 30 yards to set up the ‘Cuse to put the final nail on the coffin. Garrett Shrader located Oronde Gadsden in the end zone to put the Orange up 24-7 and the game was effectively over from there.

Now, does one play mean McDonald is ready to fill the shoes of a projected NFL linebacker? No. However, it’s a promising sign to see that Syracuse has some other second level defenders who haven’t seen much playing time walk onto the field and be ready to make a play. For as good as Thompson is, he has never picked a pass off while wearing an SU uniform, just saying.

Syracuse will certainly see some kind of dip in production at outside linebacker because you just simply can’t replace a guy the caliber of Thompson. However, that’s not to say the ‘Cuse don’t have any options and all hope it lost. Look for McDonald and guys like Anwar Sparrow and Leon Lowery to attempt to carry the mantle.

Chris Elmore

Flipping over to the offensive side of the ball, Syracuse has problems of its own over there but perhaps not as dire. Elmore won’t pop up in any stat sheets unless he’s on the receiving end of a desperation flip pass from Garrett Shrader. However, the big fullback is so critical to the success of SU’s run game. The super senior has years of experience opening up running lanes for Orange running backs and has even played offensive line before. Syracuse missed out of having the Illinois product for much of the 2021 season and it appears that will be the case again one year later.

Unlike the Thompson injury on defense, this problem is easier to deal with. Syracuse’s switch to an air raid system predicated on the pass should allow for more opportunities to get the ball out in space to its pass catchers. Now instead of having three receivers on the field at once, the ‘Cuse could have four if it wants and can open up the box. With the middle of the field open, SU can still run the ball effectively with Sean Tucker and Garrett Shrader because the offensive line has really improved mowing defenders down in the ground attack.

On top of that, Robert Anae has a guy like Max Mang at his disposal to use in the backfield. The overseas tight end took Elmore’s place at wing back last year and was alright. At the very least, the sophomore has experience and understands Mike Schmidt’s principles in the rushing game. So the two solutions? Use Mang at H and/or bring more receivers onto the field to spread the ball around and open things up.

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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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