Then and Now - football - Part 4 | Syracusefan.com

Then and Now - football - Part 4

SWC75

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Running Backs
Seniors: Abdul Adams 5-11 210 (was 205), Chris Elmore 6-0 265 (was 288)
Juniors: Jarveon Howard 5-11 205 (was 5-10 214)
Sophomores: Cooper Lutz 6-0 210 (was 201)
Freshmen: Mario Escobar 5-9 180, Josh Hough 6-3 255, David Obeno-Agyapono 5-11 185, Joe Pinjuh 5-9 205, Sean Tucker 5-10 210 (was 202)


Adams and Howard sat out last season due to Covid concerns. There was talk they were going to declare for the draft but they decided to come back. This creates an interesting competition with Tucker, who as a freshman showed star potential in their absence. The three of them are virtually the same size and Adams and Howard had virtually the same stats in 2019: Adams 87c/336y/3TD, Howard 76/337/3. Adams was the better pass receiver: 15/141/0 vs. 9/53/0. Howard was mostly used in short yardage and goal line situations, where he was effective (4.4). Adams came here from Oklahoma with some gaudy stats: 53/283(5.3)/0 as a freshman and 59/542(9.2!)/1 as a sophomore. The TD was a 99 yarder.

Howard played for 3 games and actually ran the ball well: 79 yards in 7 carries but no scores. Then he hit the transfer portal once it was clear that he was not sharing the position with Sean Tucker, who is still a freshman with the Covid bonus year. Howard doesn’t want to be a career reserve and will be playing for Alcorn State in his home state of Mississippi next year. Adams was in the same boat but stuck it out, even playing on special teams. He played in 11 games but only had 57 yards on 13 carries. He was listed as a “super senior” even though this was only his fourth year, presumably because he opted to sit out last year due to the Covid threat. So he’s not coming back, either. With them go the unusual depth we’ve had at this positon the last couple of years.

Tucker introduced himself after Adams and Howard had opted out, Jordan had gotten injured and Pierre had failed to impress, in the Georgia Tech game, which proved to be our lone victory of the season:

He had 24/112(4.7)/2 in that game, including that whirling dervish move over the body of a tackler. And later had 100 yard games against Liberty and Notre Dame. He wound up with 137/626(4.6)/4 for a team with a bad offensive line. He’d been hand-timed in 4.29 second in the 40-yard dash, which is extremely fast. I found an article where Howard says he ran a 4.4 but could not find one for Adams. Steele ranked them #32 (Adams), #57 (Howard) and #99 (Tucker), although he said “Tucker looks like a future star”. 247 had Adams at #15, Howard at #36 and Tucker at #58. Whatever…they are all very talented and we are blessed to have all three. Lindy’s: “Sean Tucker is one of the ACC’s most promising young running backs .”


Now he’s a full-fledged star, having set the school record for rushing yards in a season with 1,496 yards. He averaged 6.1 yards a carry and scored 12 times. He was los our second leading receiver with 20 for 255 yards and 2 more scores. He’s got good size, (5-10 210) great speed and sees the field well, uses his blockers and makes good cuts. I brought along Floyd Little memoir to read at halftime during the home games and I kept wishing Floyd had bene here to see Sean run. Like Floyd, he’s durable can score from anywhere on the field. He’s the best thing we’ve got going for us right now.

The one issue was that, in some games, we strangely didn’t get him the ball enough: 13 carries in losses to Rutgers, North Carolina State and Pittsburgh. That led to another issue: with the wide open transfer portal, Sean could leave and wind up playing for, say, Clemson next year against us. That would basically be the kill shot for the Babers Era. Tucker said “I believe a lot I’m going to be here.”, adding that a coaching change could alter his plans. He also tweeted “I'm not pleased with the outcome of the game or the play calling. I wanted to do so much more but I don't call the plays.”

Lutz was pressed into service when Tucker got hurt and showed not only running but pass catching ability. He carried the ball 43 times for 246 yards, an impressive 5.7 yard average and one score while catching 8 passes for 56 yards. He tended to run more straight up than the others but was always looking over the field for a seam and he has good hands, which is why they had him at receiver even though he’d been a pretty good-looking running back in high school:

Lutz didn’t have as good a year in 2021 as he did in 2020. He went from 51 touches for 302 yards and a score to 21/77/1 and had fumbling problems. He didn’t like being a back-up either, (who does these days?) so he hit the transfer portal, too.

Then there’s the new guys, essentially the new guy….

The big name is Hough (as in “I’ll Hough and I’ll pough and I’ll blough your house down”), who combines massive size, (6-3 255) with the speed to take it the distance, at least in high school: “Rushed for 2,048 yards and 29 touchdowns on just 124 carries (16.7 yards per carry!), as a senior for Beaver Falls … Rushed for 4,378 yards in his high school career” (Cuse.com). here he is in action:

Josh Hough Highlights | 2021 Signing Class

What jumps out at me is that there’s very little power running showed here. On most of these runs, he’s untouched. Part of that is excellent blocking. Part of it is Josh’s quick acceleration though the line and his ability to pick the correct hole and look for the seams. But I haVE to say I didn’t see how good a short-yardage power runner he is. Maybe there were so many long plays to highlight that there was no room for those plays. Maybe he’s just so much bigger than the average high school player they are afraid to make contact with him. I’m not saying that Josh isn’t a great power runner. I’m just saying that this clip doesn’t show me that. Also, like Howard, he can sure run past those teenagers. But will he be able to do it against ACC-level college players? He was measured at 4.69 in the forty, which is good for a man his size but otherwise not exceptional for a college running back. Steele ranked Hough the #118 RB in the nation, 247 #84 – good but not exceptional rankings.

He’s been called a high school Derrick Henry. Will he be a college or pro Derrick Henry? We’ll have to see what happens on the field- if he plays this year. He’s got four veteran running backs ahead of him so a redshirt might make some sense. But in this era of the wide-open transfer portal, do we dare not use him? One more note: I thought his defensive plays were as impressive in their own way as the long runs on offense. He can bat passes down, use his quickness to get into the backfield and throws ball-carriers around as if they were crash test dummies. He'd make a heck of an inside linebacker, (much like Marlowe Wax, so was also a big-time power runner in high school but is now a very promising LB). Whatever happens with Josh, I’m glad it will happen in Orange.


Hough showed up for pre-season practice in a leg brace and never played. He no longer has four guys in front of him- just Sean Tucker. They could make a classic fullback-halfback combo if we went to that old-fashioned notion. (But don’t hold your breath on that). He’ll surely alternate with Tucker but that won’t amount to very many carries based on Howard’s and Adams’ experience. Tucker, at best will probably jump to the pros after the 2022 season and that may be Hough’s big chance. But they are going to have to bring several new running backs to fill out the roster. They will be Hough’s real competition.

Offensive Line
Seniors: Airon Servais 6-6 300, (from 309, he had been 273 in 2019 and 292 in 2018)
Juniors: Dakota Davis 6-5 327 (was 325); Darius Tisdale 6-5 300 (was 6-4 342)
Sophomores: Matthew Bergeron 6-5 315, (was 6-4 312), Chris Bleich 6-6 320 (was 332), Jakob Bradford 6-5 295, Wil Froumy 6-6 300 (was 307); Ryan Kisselstein 6-6 325 (was 331); Mark Petry 6-4 280 (was 265), Anthony Red 6-5 285 (was 297); Carlos Vettorello 6-4 295 (was 289)
Freshmen: Garth Barclay 6-7 290 (was 270), Enrique Cruz 6-6 295, Kalan Ellis 6-6 365, Wes Hoeh 6-4 275, Josh Ilaoa 6-3 300 (was 295), Aystyn Kauhi 6-5 280, Tyler Magnuson 6-6 280, Ahmed Masood 6-3 250

Things were so bad last year that we were down to 8 available offensive linemen, some of whom were playing hurt. Airon Servias, our best one and our captain was basically playing on one leg. Dino spoke hopefully at the beginning of the season about “the cavalry coming to the rescue” after the first month but it didn’t happen. A few guys were able to make it back but they did so piecemeal and weren’t 100%. They were replaced by those who A) weren’t as good or B) could be as good but weren’t ready yet) or C) guys who were playing other positions which were weakened by the switch. Either that or the hurt guys played anyway.

Now we have 19 offensive linemen, (20 if you count Chris Elmore), including guys who have started 120 career games. Phil Steele predicts that we will have “one of the most improved offensive lines in the country”. The thing is, they were so bad last year, (92 rushing yards per game, 38 sacks), that it’s hard to tell where that places us. The O-line is the most important unit on the team. The thing that took us from 20 years of mediocrity to 11-0 in 1987 was that the linemen that Dick McPherson was able to recruit after we went to the Cherry Bowl in 1985, who, after a redshirt year, basically took over the line, filling 4 of the 5 spots. Suddenly the plays were being executed the way they looked on the blackboard. Runners got through the line of scrimmage before being hit – and they were delivering the hits. The quarterback could check down through all of his receivers and give them time to get open – and pass the ball like it was practice, with no physical pressure on him. The team could sustain and complete drives, build up point totals so that the defense, when it came on the field, was playing with a lead, maybe a big one and could be aggressive. And the line they had to defend on that field was consistently on the other side of the 50-yard line. The place kicker got more opportunities to display his skills than the punter did. Punters could go for the coffin corner instead of hoping to get off a punt from the end zone. We could go all out to block and return the other team’s kicks. When your offensive line gets good, you find out how talented their teammates really are.


Our line was much improved. Of course that’s using terrible as a base. But they opened the holes that allowed Tucker and Shrader to rush for a combined 2,277 yards and 26 touchdowns. They did a good job getting the ball carrier to the ‘second level’, (where the linebackers are), with a full head of steam and some lanes they could run in until late in the year when teams realized they didn’t need to cover the pass and put everyone in the ‘box’’. But even in a Covid year with ‘super seniors’, we really didn’t have the depth we need to have a really good offensive line where injured players don’t have to play and the players who do can be alternated to keep them fresh. Still, some of the younger players look promising.

Servais is good at Rubik’s cubes and that’s good because his career has been one. He’s already started 48 games and will set a Syracuse record for starts that is unlikely to be broken. He’s played two different positions. His weight has fluctuated from 292 to 273 to 309 and he has now settled in at 300. From last year’s preview: “Airon Servais was a key figure in Dino Babers’ first recruiting class and has been the anchor of the line, to the extent that we had one, ever since. Dino got him away from Wisconsin, his home state powerhouse. He’s been a center most of his career here but it’s felt tackle should be his natural position and he’s finally getting to play there. He’s started all 37 games of his career here after redshirting his first year. He has had 120 ‘knockdown’ blocks in that time. At left tackle he’s Tommy DeVito’s “blind side” protector and there couldn’t be a better man there.” Well, there’s been better men than what Servais was last year. Nunes: “Per PFF.com he graded out at a 50.3 for run blocking on the season and a suboptimal 43.6 for pass blocking.” A leg problem limited his mobility. He’s started every game since he came here, healthy or hurt, and took advantage of the extra year of eligibility Covid gave him to try one more time to have a fully healthy season so the pros could see what he can do. Steele rated him at #208 coming out of high school, 247 #132.

Sevais’ career has finally come to an end. He’s seen it all, playing in a record 60 games and he was a starter from the first game of his reshirt freshman year, way back in 2017, Dino’s second year. He’d bene one of Dino’s first recruits. He played both center and tackle for us and always seemed to be playing hurt. He was also a top student and leader and deserves to be remembered with respect by Syracuse fans.

Bleich could have solved a lot of problems but the NCAA decided to once more stick it to us and refused to grant Bleich a waiver of the old transfer rule, even though they seemed to be granting them to everybody else. Bleich had been a starter for the Florida Gators, so you know he’s pretty good. He’s certainly pretty big. But he was also getting over surgery and might not have been an immediate help. But he’s healthy and eligible now. Nunes: “It’ll be interesting to see if he improves upon the sort of blocking grades he put up for the Gators (53 for pass blocking, 63 for run blocking).” Cuse.com: “Played in nine games, starting eight at right guard … Helped the Gators to an 11-2 record and the No. 6 ranking in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll … Blocked for a Florida offense that averaged 33.2 points and 430.5 total yards per game, including 300.7 passing yards per contest … The Gators topped 400 yards of offense in five of Bleich’s appearances and passed for 300+ yards four times.” Steele: #54 247: #34

Bleich finally got to play and played well, helping Tucker & company to get off to a good start. Unfortunately, he then injured himself again in midseason and wasn’t much of a factor except in his absence after that. Fortunately he’s got a couple more years of eligibility left.

Vettorello started 2019 as a tackle and was over-matched there. When he got switched to center with Servais taking over at tackle, and Bergeron took over the other tackle, our line play improved considerably. Cuse.com: “Syracuse averaged 242.3 yards rushing in the final three games when Vettorello switched permanently to center, 88.3 yards more than its season average (154.0) ... Additionally, the team’s sacks allowed went from 4.9 per game to 1.7 over that same span.” MSN: “He needs to take a step forward with his development and consistency to give the quarterback time and open lanes for running backs.” Nunes: “Obviously the middle of the line was a bit of an issue last year, and he didn’t fare particularly well in terms of run or pass-blocking in 2020 per PFF (graded out under 55 out of 100 for both). But at position that doesn’t have much in the way of depth, he’s probably the best bet — and the one most likely to find improvement, especially with more certainty at guard this fall than last.” Steele: #85 247: #37 (but as a guard).

Vettorello was switch back from center to tackle for the second half of the season due to another injury to Servais. and that’s not what he’s good at. He’s much better at center. Later Vetterello was injured and Servias switched back to tackle, with IIaoa taking over at center, where he struggled.

When Davis came here he was cocky but in a good way: He said he “enjoys breaking opponents' wills and making them want to quit.” I don’t know how often that has happened but he’s played well when healthy. Last year he wasn’t and he’s been seen in camp wearing a ‘boot’ this year. MSN: “Davis is a strong run blocking interior lineman. Syracuse really missed him last year as missed the first half of the year with injury. When he did come back, he still working his way back to full health. The offensive line starting to show positive signs at the end of last year, in part due to Davis' return.“ Nunes: “In 2019, Davis was second on the team in knockdown blocks with 50, and then missed most of last season — another reason the middle of the line was such a mess. While it would be bold to claim that the rushing attack improved after his return last in the year (they only topped 100 yards once with him back in the lineup), having the experienced starter around all year will be extremely valuable.” Same, 2020: “ “Last season he developed a relationship with both Vettorello and Matthew Bergeron that should lead to some consistency moving forward. Without the learning curve that was needed last season, Davis and his mates should mesh from the outset. Early in the year last year, I criticized Davis’ work with Alexander, especially on pass protections. The chemistry he has with Bergeron is like night and day, and this shouldn’t be a concern nearly as much anymore.” Steele: #213, 247 #106.

Davis has performed well, despite injuries but he’s never really become the ‘road grader’ his initial comments suggested. He’s still got another year of eligibility to fulfill his promise.

Bergeron looked like an immediate star when he was inserted into the line-up as a true freshman in 2019 and was our best lineman last year. Cuse.com: “Helped lead an offensive line that saw significant improvement throughout the season. 36-percent of the total number of sacks Syracuse allowed on the season came in the first-two contests (2.7 per game over final-nine contests) ... Helped pave the way for the first-two 100-yard rushers that Notre Dame allowed in the 2020 season, when Cooper Lutz (112) and Sean Tucker (101) both crossed the century mark against the Fighting Irish (12/5).“ MSN: “Bergeron has started 16 straight games over the last two seasons. He emerged during the 2019 campaign as a starting right tackle but transitioned to the left side last year. He is big, athletic and an all-around solid tackle.” Nunes: “Bergeron’s started at tackle on both sides of the line for Syracuse and has performed well in spots despite being thrust into action pretty early in his career (again, thanks to injuries). He’s also been getting burn on the special teams unit, so he’s bringing more experience than one might think... Bergeron is going to be manning that left tackle position once again this fall. In his third season Syracuse will be looking for him to continue improving and become a more consistent blocker as the Orange need to protect the quarterback better this fall.” Athlon called Matthew “a rising stand-out.” Servais: “He’s done a really good job of picking up all our schemes and understanding the way plays are supposed to be blocked,” Servais said. “I think he’s a really intelligent player.” Steele: #236 247: #80.

He remains probably our best lineman, although he showed a tendency to lose his cool late in the year with a few too many penalties.

Tisdale started 10 games last year. He’s dropped 42 pounds, indicating that he’s trying for a big year that could attract the pros. MSN: “He provides experienced depth who can step in if needed.” Nunes: “ Tisdale was asked to do quite a bit in 2020, and should be in a better spot to succeed now in 2021 as a likely reserve with starting experience, plus more consistency in front of him on the depth chart. Tisdale’s grades didn’t net out too well, but like the others, it’s worth noting the degree of difficulty given all of the injuries. Tisdale primarily played guard, starting 10 games for the Orange in that spot. That said, prior to last season’s pre-season shutdown, Tisdale was working out at Tackle as well, which is a bit less solidified than guard.” Steele: #225 247: #145

Tisdale played a lot after Bleich got hurt. He always seemed to be the weak link in the line when he was in there.

Ilaoa has Hawaiian roots but was born in Seattle and grew up in Charlotte, NC. He was recruited as a guard but backed up Vettorello at center. He appeared in 9 games. MSN: “Ilaoa can play guard or center, and word is he made an impression during practice last season. He could be one of the primary reserves at both spots in 2021.” Nunes: “While snaps were limited on offense, he got plenty of special teams burn in 2020, which could pay dividends as the team continues to try and develop the line depth chart more. His pass-blocking grades were actually among the best on the team (though a 67.3).” “I am going to be playing guard, but don’t be surprised if I’m playing anything else,” Ilaoa said. “What makes me different is that I am very athletic and versatile.” Steele: #339, 247: #132.

He played in 11 games with mixed results at best.

Froumy has yet to play a game for us. He redshirted in 2018, didn’t play in 2019 and was supposed to be part of the “cavalry” last year but got left back at the fort. MSN: “Froumy has a great frame at 6-6, 300 pounds and moves well at his size. He will battle for a reserve spot during training camp.” Nunes: “One would think that Froumy’s chance to move up the depth chart is sort of now or never. It’s unfortunate that Froumy was injured last season as he likely would have seen time for the Orange. With both starting tackles back he’ll be battling Anthony Red and Mark Petry for a backup spot and time on special teams units.” Froumy: “I know I’m going to play with people who are going to be in the NFL, and that’s pretty cool.” It would be pretty cool if he’s right. Steele: #237, 247 #143

He played in 1 game – the third game of the season against Albany.

Red was in for three plays against Duke. MSN: “An up and coming tackle the staff is very high on, Red will battle for a spot on the two deep. He is athletic and plays with a mean streak.” Nunes: “Red has some versatility and could shift inside to guard, but we’ve only seen three snaps from him so far in his first couple seasons. Injuries have been part of what’s prevented extensive looks to-date. He’s still an intriguing prospect with four years of eligibility left and if either starter struggles we might see Red on the field sooner than we think.” Steele: #292, 247: #96

He played in 2 games – Ohio and Albany

The there’s the Hawaiians. Ellis is our heaviest player at 6-6 365. Nunes: “First of all, 6-foot-6 and 365 pounds is already big for a lineman. (What is it not big for?) Ellis is in the rare position where he may have to lose weight to fit into the Orange offensive line scheme, with most of Syracuse’s starters hovering around the 300-325 pound range. Nevertheless, his natural size might prove to be useful later down the line in his SU career… That size should put the Hawaii product in prime position to be appear on the early depth chart, especially since there aren’t a ton of interior linemen on this team.” He was unable to play during his senior year in high school due to the pandemic. Steele: #246 247: #84

This guy has star quality and the coaches couldn’t wait to get him in there. His first start was right at the top- against Clemson. He did well enough to suggest that he’ll be a mainstay on the line for the next few years.

Kauhi was “rated the top offensive tackle in the Aloha state” per Nunes. “He’s quick, athletic and was one of the best offensive linemen to come out of Hawaii in the 2021 recruiting cycle. With the players in front of him on the depth chart, expect Austyn to redshirt this season as the focus will continue to be on strength and conditioning as he adjusts to the college game.” Steele: not rated, 247: #139

He played in one game – the opener against Ohio U.

SUJuiceONline: “Syracuse certainly needed a change in its coaching ranks following its disastrous 2020 campaign. Mike Cavanaugh left for Arizona State in January, and the Orange replaced him with San Diego State offensive line coach Mike Schmidt. Schmidt, involved with the Aztecs program since 2012, had molded its rushing attack into one of the best in college football, with SDSU ranking 15th nationally in rushing yards per carry (5.0), 15th in rushing yardage per game (216.9) and tied for 21st in rushing touchdowns (201) during that time period. The offensive line unit has immediately taken to Schmidt’s coaching so far, especially when it comes to film study. “Coach Schmidt came in and on the first day we watched film,” Bergeron said. “I liked his new approach. Everyone is just following him and we trust him. He made us a better unit in 14 practices so I’m glad to work with him.”

Coach Schmidt was credited with much of the improvement in the line and the fact that it held up despite having arguably as many injuries as in prior years. I hope he winds up working with a deep and dominant offensive line here – someday.
 

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