Following Syracuse’s first loss of the season to Clemson Saturday, Garrett Shrader said, “I’d like one other guy to step up in that receiver room, just to help out. Spread things out a little bit.” You can say that again, Garrett.
Oronde Gadsden has been SU’s clear number one option in the pass game since his breakout performance against Purdue in week three. That’s great. The Orange went into this year not knowing who their first option would be. In week one against Louisville, seven different players caught a pass for Syracuse. That number jumped to 10 in week two against UConn.
Since then, however, it’s been a complete reversal from wide receiver by committee to there’s only one option. Gadsden caught six balls for 86 yards against the Tigers, an average of 14.3 yards per reception. Three other receivers caught a pass for the Orange: Damien Alford, Devaughn Cooper, and Trebor Pena. That trio combined for 7 catches and 63 yards, 9 yards per reception.
For the year, Gadsden has 593 yards, second most in the ACC, and five touchdowns, third in the conference. Alford, Cooper, Pena, and Courtney Jackson together have 643 yards and three touchdowns.
The stats paint a clear picture, but you don’t even need them. Just watch Shrader’s interception in the final minute that sealed the game for Clemson. Gadsden was in the slot, the Tigers dropped into zone coverage with three defenders circling the sophomore, and Shrader still threw it in his direction. The pass, of course, never made it to Gadsden, but it’s telling that, with the game on the line, Shrader would rather throw into triple coverage than target any other receiver.
It’s hard to blame the SU quarterback. None of the other options have shown they deserve to be trusted on a consistent basis. Cooper led the team with 60 yards in the opener, but hasn’t gotten over 35 against a team not named Wagner since. Not to mention the crucial drop the seventh year player had against Clemson. Jackson and Pena are in the same boat, but without the one big performance to hold onto. Both have season high yardage totals in the low 40s, and neither even gets to that bar consistently.
The more frustrating one is Alford. The Canadian averages 23 yards per catch, by far the most on the team. The problem is Alford only has six catches for 138 yards total. He has the size and athletic ability to jump over just about any defensive back he faces, which has led to him being used as a 50-50 ball specialist down field. The issue is he’s not a crisp route runner, so his route tree is limited, and he doesn’t have the speed to beat DBs over the top. He’s limited to the role he has, the same one he filled at the end of last year.
So, what do you do about it? Well, in the long run, the answer is to use Gadsden’s emergence to convince better recruits and transfers that Syracuse is a place where a talented receiver can thrive. In the short term, Robert Anae and company just have to keep looking. Umari Hatcher got some run against Clemson. Other guys like Anthony Queeley, D’Marcus Adams, CJ Hayes and Don Brown are options as well.
The Orange have to try something, because what they’re putting out there hasn’t been good enough. Queeley and Adams in particular are intriguing because of their speed, something that SU desperately lacks. The two are also veterans. Odds are, if someone was good enough to emerge as the number two option, it would have happened by now, but Syracuse has to keep looking nonetheless.