In Syracuse’s 29-16 win against Army over the weekend, some concerning things happened involving the Orange, such as the slow start, an inability to move the ball in the first half, and a couple of questionable play calls from Jason Beck. But, in the second half, those concerns were addressed when the Orange blitzed the Black Knights for 26 straight points to open up a 19-point lead that was eventually cut to 13. A big piece of why SU was able to get things going on offense was its newly established WR1, Damien Alford.
Alford has had an interesting journey in his four seasons at Syracuse. He was always billed as a player with a lot of potential that only shined through in bursts, such as his game-winning touchdown at Virginia Tech in 2021. His career numbers have increased in each of his seasons, starting with minimal contributions his freshman year, to 249 yards as a sophomore, and that increased to 429 yards and a couple of scores in 2022. So far in 2023, Alford is just two yards shy of matching his 2021 total in only four games, and without Oronde Gadsden in the fold, he has a prime opportunity to step up.
Against Army, Alford was terrific at going up and making contested catches in single coverage down the field. Plus, he worked underneath routes as well and found soft spots in the defense whenever the Black Knights were in zone coverage. He finished with a career-high 136 yards on nine catches. Last season, his highest receiving total in a game was 83 yards.
Dino Babers once deemed Alford “Bambi”, because of how raw he was as a prospect and only the glimpses we would all see of what he could do in doses. But, against Army, when presented with the opportunity to be the focal point of the offense in the passing game, he made the most of his opportunities, made contested catches, and was reliable in every situation.
Alford has bigger challenges upcoming with the start of the ACC schedule for the Orange, and that means more physical and talented defensive backs than SU saw in the non-conference. The Canadian showed against Purdue that even if he doesnt bring the ball in, he can draw pass interference penalties down the field in big moments. His size and athleticism present such a weapon for the Orange offense that Beck and company would be foolish not to make Alford the main target in the passing game.
Clemson arriving at the Dome on Saturday will be a massive test for Syracuse, and Alford’s involvement will be a huge factor to watch against the best talent he’s faced this season. With the breakout game under his belt, defenses will be keying in on him, as Army did in the 4th quarter after he dominated the 3rd period. But, if Alford is as talented as Babers says he is, he’ll be ready for this moment in the Orange’s biggest game of the season and on his way to a massive year.