Dino Babers announced on Monday at his weekly press conference that two Syracuse starters, offensive utility superman Chris Elmore, and linebacker Stefon Thompson would miss the rest of the season after leaving Saturday’s 31-7 win against Louisville with injuries. Both players were seen on the sidelines in the second half on crutches and in street clothes.
Elmore, who has been in the program seemingly forever, has played a myriad of positions on SU’s offense, including fullback, tight end, and even along the offensive line at times. Thompson has been one of the orange’s top pass rushers for a few years now and was part of a linebacking core that was arguably the top position group on the roster.
Along with Mikel Jones and Marlowe Wax, who were excellent on Saturday night, Thompson was supposed to be that third piece off the ball rushing the passer and assisting in the run game. That run defense was expected to be Syracuse’s weakness heading into the season, and the loss of Thompson only exacerbates that.
Despite the Orange outrushing the Cardinals by over 70 yards, Louisville was still able to rush for almost 140 yards while trailing the entire game. That is not going to cut it if you’re Syracuse. While the defensive line played admirably, against better teams like Purdue, NC State, Clemson, Notre Dame, and all the other strong teams on the schedule, it’s going to be that much tougher.
Furthermore, it’s likely the Orange won’t be leading wire to wire every game, which will allow their opponents to run the ball more compared to when they are trailing. That could be a huge issue, especially without Thompson helping the linebacking core. Yes, Derek McDonald played great, but that can’t be expected every game from a player who is a converted tight end.
Thompson not being there to help the passing game will almost affect the run game because if he can’t help the defense get off the field on third down or passing downs, that opens up the playbook for opposing offenses to run the ball more, with less pressure coming because there is no Thompson to rush the passer.
Elmore is a big loss. There is no doubt about that. But, his biggest attribute likely comes from his leadership and leading by example. While his plethora of skills is impactful to a team that can still use lots of help around the field if they want to become a good, bowl-eligible team, it’s not as big as losing a starting linebacker on a defense that relies heavily on its backers.
Thompson is undoubtedly a bigger loss, and it remains to be seen if his replacements will be able to make the same impact on the field that he did. UConn on Saturday may not be the best barometer to test that as the Orange are 20+ point road favorites, but Purdue and Virginia are good tests later this month. Only time will tell how the SU defense will hold up without one of its best players.