Short answer: a lot.
Syracuse Football had to overcome a ton of adversity in 2022. SU started its season 6-0, but as it picked up wins week after week, it also was losing starters left and right. As soon as the calendar turned to November, we were looking around the offensive and defensive lineups wondering who’s left? The Orange still found a way to use that “next man up mentality” and pull out a 7-5 season. It’s hard not to think about what could have been though, had SU avoided the injury bug.
SU lost two of its most important players before the season even really got started. The Orange lost Chris Elmore and Stefon Thompson in the opener against Louisville. Now, Syracuse still found a way to win six games without those guys but it’s not a hot take to say the ‘Cuse would have won more with this tandem of players.
The Orange really could have used the experience and talent of Thompson to hold down one of the outside linebacker spots. Derek McDonald filled in when he could, although he was on and off with injuries. However, Thompson has three years of experience in the 3-3-5 and has an NFL future ahead if he can get back to full strength. It’s not hard to believe that the run defense would have benefitted a lot had Thompson been available down the stretch of the season.
Elmore’s injury was a big loss too. Without the big fullback, Syracuse lost a lot of leadership from one of its senior players. On top of that, SU lost a big bruiser in the run and pass blocking game. The Orange’s run game struggled at times against big, bulky front seven’s in ACC play. Perhaps the ground attack would have been more prolific and the pass protection would have been stronger with Elmore slotted in the backfield.
The other big injuries this season include Terry Lockett and Garrett Williams. Syracuse seemed too slightly regress defensively as the season went along and obviously that’s going to happen when starters keep going down. At this moment, SU just isn’t a program that can sustain injuries to starters and especially guys who have an NFL pedigree.
Lockett’s injury was a massive one because Syracuse was super thin all season in the trenches. SU has basically two options at nose tackle: Lockett and Kevon Darton. The latter is a former walk-on that is very athletic and quick, but also is undersized. The Orange really needed to find more options in the offseason to replace Lockett and rotate the room. So, the injury to Lockett certainly played a factor, but some blame has to fall on Babers and Company for not filling the void on the recruiting trail.
Williams was able to play a good portion of the season but went down halfway through following the NC State win. You just simply cannot replace an All-ACC cornerback and a guy that scouts were coming to see inside the JMA Wireless Dome. With that said, the pass defense wasn’t that big of a glaring hole down the stretch of the season. Other than Wake Forest’s A.T. Perry exposing the SU secondary, the pass defense has been solid all season. However, Williams is very heady in the run defense as well and brings some intrinsic skills to the table.
So yes, injuries played a big role in Syracuse’s 1-5 collapse to end the season. However, other factors are involved here too. SU could have done a better job trying to build depth at defensive line and linebacker in the offseason. A full strength Orange team is extremely talented and probably capable of nine wins.