Syracuse Football: Defense gassed, injuries pile up, run game needs jolt

Syracuse football (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
Syracuse football (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Syracuse football roster, like many of its peers around the country, is banged up.

Prior to the Orange’s home battle against Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon, the ‘Cuse had lost five players to season-ending injuries. They were fullback/tight end Chris Elmore, linebacker Stefon Thompson, wide receiver Isaiah Jones, defensive lineman Terry Lockett and defensive lineman Denis Jaquez Jr.

In the Orange’s 41-24 setback at the JMA Wireless Dome to the Fighting Irish on Saturday, star cornerback Garrett Williams and starting quarterback Garrett Shrader both got injured in the first half and didn’t play in the second half.

To his credit, backup quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, a transfer from Florida, threw some nice-looking, crisp passes in the second half after replacing Shrader.

Each quarterback had a touchdown pass, as well as an interception. I thought Del Rio-Wilson was more than credible in the second half. But what most concerns me about the ‘Cuse, mired in a two-game losing streak, is three-fold.

Number one, the injuries are piling up. The defense, I believe, is seeing its depth thoroughly tested; and the Mob is gassed. And the running game for No. 16 Syracuse football is being under-utilized and/or has proven ineffective in the team’s losses at No. 5 Clemson and then to the Fighting Irish in Central New York.

Syracuse football has to regroup and get ready for Pittsburgh on the road.

The Orange (6-2), in its six-point defeat at the hands of the Tigers last weekend, committed 10 penalties. Running back Sean Tucker only had five carries, although Shrader had 21 carries and a rushing TD.

Versus Notre Dame, the ‘Cuse only committed three penalties, which is awesome. As I already mentioned, the two Orange quarterbacks did some good things, but also had some issues.

In the loss to the Fighting Irish, Tucker carried the ball more, 16 times this go-round, but only for 60 yards. Shrader didn’t get it going in the running department, but he also seems to have an injury.

Clemson out-rushed Syracuse football, 293 yards to 124 yards, per ESPN statistics. Even worse, Notre Dame and its offensive line totally bullied the ‘Cuse, boasting an advantage of 246 yards to 61 yards on the ground.

I think we all can agree that, a stanza ago when the Orange went 5-7, the squad’s offense was way too reliant on its rushing schemes. But Shrader, in 2022, has looked better as a passer, and Del Rio-Wilson has a promising future.

So from a passing perspective, that’s encouraging. But the ‘Cuse can’t get stomped on by that wide of a margin in the rushing category and expect to beat good teams.

Sure, the Fighting Irish (5-3) came into this non-conference affair at just one game above .500, but Notre Dame was a top-10 group in the preseason top-25 polls.

Additionally, the Fighting Irish had defeated a nationally ranked North Carolina unit, and now also a top-20 Orange team on the road.

Syracuse football, based on these last two setbacks, has to improve on the ground, and the offense has to sustain more extended drives to give the Mob defense a breather.

When the ‘Cuse fell at Clemson, 27-21, the Tigers were roughly eight minutes ahead in time of possession. This Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame had an edge by around 15 minutes.

You can’t expect a really good Orange defense that has seen multiple starters go down to be on the field for that long.

It’s not just the rushing attack – or lack thereof – that is alarming, however. In the Notre Dame contest, I saw a bunch of passes dropped by Syracuse football wide receivers that I found to be totally catchable, at least from my perspective.

We’ll have to see what the Orange’s depth chart looks like this week as the ‘Cuse prepares to travel to long-time rival Pittsburgh on Saturday, Nov. 5.

Injuries are piling up, but every college squad has to contend with this. For the Orange to get back into the win column, though, the team’s offense has to sustain drives with a balanced attack, put points on the board and, equally as important, keep the ‘Cuse defense on the sidelines.

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