Why SU’s running backs, the ‘juice of the offense,’ have struggled this season

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on September 18, 2019 at 11:02 pm Contact Eric: [email protected] | @esblack34 The talk surrounding Syracuse’s group of running backs heading into the season was always positive. How talented they were, how deep they were, how well they got along, how they’d fill in for the loss of Dontae Strickland to the NFL. Moe Neal’s goal heading into the season, he said, was to rush for 1,000 yards. Chris Elmore believed that Neal wasn’t the only running back on the team that had the potential to hit the millennium mark.And in the first game of the season, that potential was apparent. During a game in which SU’s passing game struggled, Neal rushed for a team-high 89 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown scamper. Abdul Adams added another 49 yards and a touchdown. Jarveon Howard got in on the action too, adding nine carries and a third score for the position group.But two games later, Syracuse’s (1-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) expected success on the ground has vanished. For the first time since 2016, SU’s been held to 70 rushing yards or fewer in back-to-back games. Forty-nine combined rushes by Orange tailbacks during their two losses have resulted in a long run of just 13 yards. They’re not solely responsible for the offense’s struggles, but at this point, Syracuse’s run game is essentially non-existent.“We just all gotta be on the same page,” Neal said. “From offensive linemen, quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, we all just gotta be on the same page for the running game to come [together].”The senior running back noted that too often this season, offensive players haven’t been doing their specific jobs on plays. Missed blocks, poor pass protection by the running backs themselves and wide receivers missing hot reads have contributed to the team’s slow start, Neal said. The offense as a whole hasn’t been as consistent as it was last year or in years past, and that’s prevented the running game from clicking.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textEva Suppa | Digital Design EditorPerhaps the primary cause for the running game’s issues thus far has been Syracuse’s lack of success through the air. Despite a seemingly-solid game versus Maryland in Week 2 from a statistical standpoint, Tommy DeVito hasn’t handled the transition to starting quarterback smoothly. The redshirt sophomore has turned the ball over in each of SU’s first three games and still has communication issueswith his receivers.“If you’re gonna play us right now, there’s no reason for you to let the passing game get going,” SU head coach Dino Babers said. “[They] want to take away the run and see if we can beat them with the pass, and I think those smart coaches out there, that’s how they’re beating us.”That’s the strategy Clemson deployed against the Orange last week, as the Tigers brought extra blitzers all game and dared DeVito to beat them over the top. And it worked, as he completed just 56% of his passes and failed to connect on a deep pass all game. Even in instances when it looked like he found a man open downfield, the plays weren’t completed due to drops or penalties.That gave Clemson the ability to blitz freely and stack the box against the SU running backs, who struggled to find any room to run all game. Adams and Neal both averaged 2.4 yards per carry on 23 combined carries, with a long run of just six yards each. In his goal-line role, Howard earned two carries inside the Clemson 2-yard line but managed just one yard out of them.“We try to be the juice of the offense,” Neal said. “We try to bring life into practice with how we carry the ball, how we run … we’re trying to get better.”Another factor that has contributed to the stagnation of the running game has been the inconsistent play of SU’s offensive line. Already inexperienced coming into the season, the group has been without starting center Sam Heckel since midway through the team’s first contest of the year. Neal said that last year’s line’s experience was a big part of the reason why the run game was so effective, ranking fifth in the ACC in rushing yards per game and 32nd nationally.For them to reach the levels they did last year, though, it’ll take much more than an experienced offensive line. Every player on the Syracuse offense needs to be on the same page and begin to find the consistency they had last year. And the team as a whole, Neal said, needs to realize what’s at stake.“The hype is over. We’re not ranked no more, we’re 1-2,” Neal said. “We’re the ones that believe, so it’s time to work now. It’s time to get back to doing what we do best, and that’s just coming together.” Commentslast_img

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