Know Your Foe: Syracuse

CuseNation.com publisher Mike McAllister offers an in-depth preview of the Orange entering Saturday night’s contest against the Irish.

Offense

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.

Quarterback

Terrel Hunt 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 not overly quick but is 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.

The key for Hunt is going through his progressions, making the right reads and delivering an accurate ball in the intermediate passing game. Syracuse does not throw the deep ball often, which puts a premium on short and mid-range accuracy. Hunt has been inconsistent in those areas. When he is sharp, the Syracuse offense moves the ball well. When he is not, they struggle.

Skill Positions

Syracuse will use a plethora of skill position players both at running back and wide receiver. In the backfield, Prince-Tyson Gulley is the leader of the pack. 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.

Adonis Ameen-Moore 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.

George Morris and DeVante McFarlane enter their sophomore seasons. Both are balanced running backs who have a nice combination of speed and power. Freshman Ervin Philips was thought to be the odd man out but has seen increased playing time over the last two weeks. He is still working on bulking up a bit, but is a shifty player who is a scat-back type. You will also see him line up in the slot on occasion.

Syracuse uses several receivers in their rotation. Adrian Flemming, Jarrod West, Steve Ishmael, Ben Lewis and Quinta Funderburk all play on the outside. Brisly Estime and Ashton Broyld are the slot receivers (or h-backs in the ‘Cuse offense). Broyld suffered an injury against Maryland and has been ruled out for the contest.

Flemming and West are possession receiver types. Both are upper classmen and have long, lean bodies. Neither is especially fast. Ishmael 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 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.

Alvin Cornelius rotates in at times. He also is a strong blocker with good hands. Cornelius lacks elite speed or shiftiness, which keeps him off the field in many situations.

Brisly Estime has the most speed of the receivers. Most of his catches are on bubbles or quick slants to try to get him into the open field. Estime is a smaller receiver at only 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9, but his speed is unquestioned and he is a big play threat.

Josh Parris 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. He gives Syracuse a strong blocker and athletic receiving option over the middle.

Behind him is Kendall Moore, a sophomore who is a skilled blocker. Unfortunately for him, his hands are below average. True freshman Jamal Custis 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. He has been primarily used on bubble screens thus far, which is a bit of a surprise given his lack of speed or elusiveness.

Tyler Provo 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.

They are led by NFL prospect Sean Hickey 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 and Nick Robinson. Both are skilled run blockers. Robinson 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 against Central Michigan.

Omari Palmer 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. Similar to Trudo, he is a better run blocker than pass protector. He is susceptible to both the bull rush by powerful defensive tackles.

Rounding out the interior lineman is the lone newcomer to the five man group. Center John Miller 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 but was better the last two weeks. Miller is sometimes too high out of his stance and loses leverage against strong defensive tackles.

At right tackle, Ivan Foy completes the starting five. Foy is a solid run blocker but struggles with quick pass rushing ends due to slow feet. He has good size for the position and uses his hands well.

Michael Lasker is the primary backup at both tackle positions and provides quality depth.

Defense

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.

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 and Robert Welsh start. Both are solid players who are better against the run than rushing the passer. Neither offers consistent pressure off the edge. Isaiah Johnson and Donnie Simmons also rotate in. Both are better rushing the passer but give up a bit against the run.

In the middle, Eric Crume 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.

The other tackle spot is done by committee. Ron Thompson has emerged as a contributor and has started the last two weeks. He is undersized for a tackle, but is extremely athletic with a quick first step. Thompson will see time at defensive end as well and may be the team’s best pass rusher.

Ryan Sloan, Marcus Coleman and Wayne Williams will also rotate in at tackle. Williams is the most talented of the group and has been seeing more snaps over the last two weeks. He is a big, physical tackle who eats up blocks and fills gaps well.

The Back Seven

The back seven is the heart and soul of the Syracuse defense. The two outside linebackers, Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch, are skilled blitzers who are extremely athletic and quick. Davis, however, struggles against the run and in coverage. Lynch is the defensive leader who has led Syracuse in tackles in each of the first three games. He has strong instincts and tackles very well.

The man in the middle is Marqez Hodge. 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.

Senior Josh Kirkland and true freshmen Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett 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. He has NFL size for the position with speed, athleticism, strength and playmaking ability. He is the most talented defensive player on the roster. His only weakness is inconsistency in coverage. This season, he has been largely quiet. Look for Eskridge to play in the box at times and potentially blitz as well.

Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir both rotate in at strong safety. Both are solid but unspectacular. Chauncey Scissum provides depth, but is inexperienced.

At corner, Julian Whigham and Brandon Reddish get the starting nod. Whigham is a taller corner with long arms and solid closing speed. Reddish is a bit smaller but more agile. Neither is an elite shut down type, but both are solid.

Both Whigham and Reddish have been prone to giving up the big play this season. Especially against Maryland, they struggled against the vertical passing game which is a big concern going forward.

Wayne Morgan plays in nickel packages as a hard hitting corner who plays physical football. Corey Winfield, 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. Kicker Ryan Norton has struggled with accuracy. He has missed three field goals this season already, including two short ones. Freshman walk-on Cole Murphy hit a 49-yarder against Maryland and could be poised to takeover the kicking position depending on practice this week.

The Orange have two returners who are playmaking threats. Brisly Estime is the punt returner with elite speed and shiftiness. Ervin Philips, a true freshman, returns kickoffs. He has big play ability as well but has not proven it on the college level.

The coverage units have been solid this season, save a punt return touchdown in week one.

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 90’s, but the talent on the roster has been improving over the last several years. Notre Dame is a huge test for Syracuse.


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