Opponent Preview: Syracuse

Syracuse and Maryland battle inside the Carrier Dome Sept. 20 at 12:30 p.m. in a non-conference matchup. Here is a look at the Orange:

By Mike McAllister with contributions from Dave Lomonico

Syracuse and Maryland battle inside the Carrier Dome Sept. 20 at 12:30 p.m. in a non-conference matchup. Here is a look at the Orange:


The Scheme

Syracuse runs a spread, up-tempo offense with zone-read and power running principles. The quarterback is frequently lined up in the shotgun or pistol, and the Orange use three or more wide receiver formations most of the time.

They throw a lot of short passes, specifically the bubble screen, to try to get their playmakers the ball in space. A mobile quarterback gives them the ability to test defenses with the zone-read. The Orange also keep defenses off balance by pushing the tempo and utilizing a no-huddle approach.

Currently they are averaging 33.5 points per game, a number that went up after bouncing back from a tough one-point win against Villanova, 27-26, with a dominant 40-3 effort at Central Michigan. They are also putting up about 392 yards of total offense and 5.3 yards per play, though their time of possession is just 27 minutes a game, which is below average compared to their opponents.


Terrel Hunt (Sr., 6-3, 234) struggled with consistency last season, but entered this year poised to lead the Orange offense to a more productive season. He is more mature, more comfortable in the offense and has improved his accuracy down the field. Hunt still is not consistent with his deep passes, but it is an area where he has improved.

Hunt may be at his best when he is using his legs to move the chains. While not a burner, he is quick and elusive with a big frame that makes him tough to bring down. Hunt is also the leader of the team and plays well in crunch time.

Although he didn’t play much the first week due to injury, he is still 30 of 47 throwing the ball for 269 yards and one touchdown. His backup, Austin Wilson (So., 6-3, 214), was 11 of 17 for 89 yards against Nova, but he’s not expected to see the field unless Hunt goes down.

Skill Positions

Syracuse will use a plethora of skill position players both at running back and wide receiver. In the backfield, Prince-Tyson Gulley (Sr., 6-3, 209) is the leader of a rushing attack that’s averaging a robust 5.1 yards per carry and 212.5 yards per game. The senior back is quicker than he is fast but has the most explosiveness of the group. He is also the biggest threat out of the backfield. Gulley is at his best between the tackles making quick cuts to get to the open field. For the season he is picking up 6.3 yards a pop, and also has a touchdown and a 63-yard scamper.

Adonis Ameen-Moore (Sr., 5-11, 234) is the power back who will get his share of carries. He has slimmed down from prior years, which has helped his footwork and quickness, but he is still primarily a downhill, power type. Ameen-Moore will not dazzle you with agility or athleticism, but can get tough yards straight ahead. He has gained a team-high 125 yards through two games and is averaging 6.6 yards per carry thanks to a big 53 yard run.

George Morris (Jr., 6-0, 194) and DeVante McFarlane (Jr., 6-0, 198) enter their junior seasons. Both are balanced running backs who have a nice combination of speed and power. Freshman Ervin Philips is sort of the odd man out, but may rotate in during certain situations. Philips is more of a scat back type with big play ability. He has 57 yards on just nine carries so far.

Syracuse uses several receivers in their rotation. Adrian Flemming (Sr., 6-4, 206), Jarrod West (Sr., 6-3, 209), Steve Ishmael (Fr., 6-2, 184), Ben Lewis (Jr., 6-3, 212) and Quinta Funderburk (Jr., 6-3, 209) all play on the outside. Brisly Estime (So., 5-9, 180) and Ashton Broyld (Jr., 6-3, 216) are the slot receivers (or h-backs in the ‘Cuse offense).

Flemming (two catches, 27 yards) and West (five catches, 59 yards) are possession receiver types. Both are upperclassmen and have long, lean bodies. Neither is especially fast. Ishmael (three catches, 29 yards) is a true freshman and may have the most raw talent of the bunch. He is still adjusting to the speed of the college game. He has excellent hands.

Lewis (five catches, 38 yards) is a strong blocker for the bubble screens that they like the run and also catches everything thrown his way. He does not possess big time speed, however. Funderburk is a former four-star recruit who transferred from Arkansas. He has yet to put it all together at Syracuse and has been largely invisible.

Josh Parris (Sr., 6-4, 245) is the starting tight end. He has missed the first two games of the season due to injury, but is the most complete player the Orange have at the position. If he comes back, he gives Syracuse a strong blocker and athletic receiving option over the middle.

Behind him is Kendall Moore (So., 6-5, 231), a sophomore who is a skilled blocker. Unfortunately for him, his hands are below average. True freshman Jamal Custis (Fr., 6-6, 232) is very raw, but has a lot of ability. He has a tremendous 6-foot-6 frame that can cause big matchup problems in the red zone. Because of his lack of experience, he does not have the full trust of the staff yet.

Tyler Provo (So., 6-2, 242) may see some action as well in bigger sets. Like Moore, he is more of a blocking option.

In the Trenches

The Syracuse offensive line is as deep as it has been in years. There have been some early season injuries that have tested that depth. The starting group, when fully healthy, returns four starters from last season’s solid group. So far they have allowed zero sacks and have spurred a rushing attack that’s racked up 469 yards and five touchdowns through two games.

They are led by NFL prospect Sean Hickey (Sr., 6-6, 306) at left tackle. He is strong, has excellent footwork and uses his hands very well. Hickey is solid in both pass protection and as a lead run blocker.

The two guards are Rob Trudo (Sr., 6-4, 300) and Nick Robinson (Jr., 6-6, 279). Both are skilled run blockers. Robinson, the left guard, is also solid in pass protection while Trudo struggles at times in that area. Robinson has dealt with an injury throughout training camp and saw his first action last week against Central Michigan.

Omari Palmer (Jr., 6-3, 303) provides depth at the guard position. He had a strong spring and training camp until an injury sidelined him for week one. Palmer may see some action as well.

Rounding out the interior lineman is the lone newcomer to the five man group. Center John Miller (Sr., 6-3, 288) takes over for the graduated Macky MacPherson, who was a three year starter. He has not seen significant action prior to this season in about two years. He struggled in week one against Villanova. Miller is sometimes too high out of his stance and loses leverage against strong defensive tackles.

At right tackle, Ivan Foy (Sr., 6-5, 292) completes the starting five. Foy is a solid run blocker but struggles with quick pass rushing ends. He has good size for the position and uses his hands well.

Michael Lasker (Jr., 6-5, 303) is the primary backup at both tackle positions and provides quality depth.


The Scheme

Syracuse runs a base 4-3 defensive system. They are very aggressive within their scheme frequently blitzing their opponent in both run and pass situations. They like to bring pressure any of the linebacker positions and even use a defensive back on occasion. In nickel and dime situations, they utilize a 3-3-5 formation, which they call the “Okie” package. Through two games this year, SU is surrendering 14.5 points per game and 303 yards per game, both averages ranking them in the upper third of NCAA Division I. Central Michigan, which scored just three points, was held to 217 yards last week.

In the Trenches

The Syracuse defensive line is the biggest question mark on the entire team. They return three starters from a year ago, but lost their most productive defensive lineman (Jay Bromley) to the NFL.

Defensive ends Micah Robinson (Sr., 6-4, 266) and Robert Welsh (Sr., 6-3, 260) start. Both are solid players who are better against the run than rushing the passer. Neither offers consistent pressure off the edge. Robinson has six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack thus far, while Welsh has five stops and a tackle for loss. Isaiah Johnson (So., 6-4, 290) and Donnie Simmons (Sr., 6-2, 248) also rotate in. Both are better rushing the passer but give up a bit against the run.

In the middle, Eric Crume (Sr., 6-2, 297) is the guy to watch. He is a bit shorter than is ideal but is very strong and plays with low pad level. Crume is skilled at filling the gap and plugging up running lanes. He has eight tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack through two games.

The other tackle spot is done by committee. Ron Thompson (Jr., 6-4, 257) has emerged as a contributor. He is undersized for a tackle, but is extremely athletic with a quick first step. Thompson, who has four tackles and half a sack, will also see time at defensive end as well.

Ryan Sloan (Sr., 6-3, 306), Marcus Coleman (Jr., 6-4, 300) and Wayne Williams (Jr., 6-4, 326) will also rotate in at tackle. Williams is the most talented of the group.

The Back Seven

The back seven is the heart and soul of the Syracuse defense. The linebackers have helped hold opposing running games to just 2.7 yards per rush, while the secondary is keeping foes to 191 passing yards per.

The two outside linebackers, Dyshawn Davis (6-1, 255) and Cameron Lynch (Sr., 6-0, 231), are skilled blitzers who are extremely athletic and quick. Davis, however, struggles against the run. He has 10 tackles this year and 1.5 tackles for loss. Lynch, meanwhile, leads the team with 23 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He is one to watch firing off the edge.

The man in the middle is Marqez Hodge (So., 5-11, 218). Hodge emerged last season as a true freshman and has taken over the starting middle linebacker position this year. He is still a little bit raw, but has good instincts and is a powerful tackler. At times, he takes poor angles which causes him to miss tackles. So far this season he has a half dozen tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

Senior Josh Kirkland (6-2, 200) and true freshmen Zaire Franklin (6-0, 238) and Parris Bennett (6-0, 223) provide depth to the group. Kirkland is an effort backer who plays out of position frequently but makes up for it with his high motor. Franklin and Bennett are still learning but have strong instincts.

In the secondary, the Orange are led by safety Durell Eskridge (Jr., 6-4, 205). He has NFL size for the position with speed, athleticism, strength and playmaking ability. Eskridge, who has eight tackles so far, is the most talented defensive player on the roster. His only weakness is inconsistency in coverage.

Darius Kelly (Sr., 5-10, 195) and Ritchy Desir (Sr., 6-0, 188) both rotate in at strong safety. Both are solid but unspectacular. Kelly has 12 tackles and a pass breakup, while Desir has eight stops. Chauncey Scissum (So., 6-2, 206) provides depth, but is inexperienced .

At corner, Julian Whigham (Jr., 6-1, 185) and Brandon Reddish (Sr., 5-10, 184) get the starting nod. Whigham (two tackles, one sack) is a taller corner with long arms and solid closing speed. Reddish (six tackles) is a bit smaller but more agile. Neither is an elite shut down type, but both are solid.

Wayne Morgan (Jr., 5-11, 198) plays in nickel packages as a hard hitting corner who plays physical football. Corey Winfield (6-1, 181), who transitioned to corner from wide receiver this fall, and true freshman Juwan Dowels provide depth.

Special Teams

Syracuse’s strength on special teams is their punter Riley Dixon. He has a powerful leg and is on the Ray Guy Award watch list. For the season he’s averaging about 42 yards per boot, has placed five punts inside the 20-yard line and has two 50-plus yarders. Kicker Ryan Norton has struggled with accuracy at times, but has shown signs of being more consistent this season. That said, he’s just 3 of 5 on field goals so far and hasn’t connected on a kick over 39 yards.

The Orange have two returners who are playmaking threats. Brisly Estime is the punt returner with elite speed and shiftiness. He has just two returns for 11 yards this season, however. Ervin Philips, a true freshman, returns kickoffs. He has big play ability as well but has not proven it on the college level. On four returns this year he’s averaging 21.25 yards per bring back.

Final Thoughts

Syracuse came into the season hoping to take the next step as a program. They are still a ways away from getting back to a perennial top-25 team like they were in the 90s, but the talent on the roster has been improving over the last several years.

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