Then and Now: The Offense | Syracusefan.com

Then and Now: The Offense

SWC75

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THE TEAM

The Offense

Quarterbacks

Then:

Brent Axe, (a local sportscaster), is found of saying that Syracuse hasn’t gone through an entire season with the same starter at quarterback since Ryan Nassib in 2012. I think that’s incorrect: Eric Dungey started every game in 2018. He was pulled from the Florida State and North Carolina games and hurt early in the Notre Dame game but he started every game. Nevertheless, his point was well taken: SU quarterbacks rarely last throughout the entire season, although tough guy Garrett Shrader came back to play hurt after he got hurt last year. That means that the back-up QB isn’t just the most popular guy in town, (when the starter has a bad game). He’s a key member of the team…

Carlos Del Rio-Wilson is another big quarterback, although he’s lost 10 pounds since last season. He was a four-star recruit out of Georgia, rated as the #31 quarterback prospect in the country, per 247. He went to Florida, where he found the quarterback room a little too crowded. He came here last year and, with Justin Lamson injured, became the back-up quarterback. His chance came in the Notre Dame game and he looked pretty good, playing with some confidence and showing a strong arm but with good touch, something young quarterbacks are often missing. The next week he was overwhelmed by Pittsburgh’s aggressive front line and didn’t play very well. But we held out hope that he could develop into a good college quarterback and potentially replace Shrader, both as a fill-in and a successor…

Braden Davis is the third four-star transfer, (44th best QB), Babers has brought in from an SEC school in the last three years. Davis is a tall (6-5) somewhat skinny (200lbs) native of Delaware who went to South Carolina and was red-shirted before deciding he’d rather be at Syracuse. He committed right after Lamson left so he may have been a replacement for him or maybe Babers wanted him all along. He’s seen as another athletic, dual threat quarterback. He’s said to be very athletic: an Instagram post showed him in orbit above the earth. His arm strength and passing mechanics have been questioned…

But Shrader is easily the best at this point in their careers… (he) was a four star recruit out of Charlotte, North Carolina, rated the #13 dual threat QB in the country. A big key is to keep him healthy, if we can. He’s coming off off-season surgery and Babers said in fall camp that he was “one a pitch-count”… He’s a big guy who tends to think that that (and a luxuriant beard) will protect him but he’s learned to take care of himself on the field and could have a big year if he can stay fully healthy.


Now:

Once again Shrader gave it all he had but got hurt again and couldn’t throw, (although he could do back flips ?!?). He helped get us into a bowl game and then opted out of it to get surgery, which he had postponed. Carlos Del Rio Wilson replaced him for the Boston College game and got so beat up we never saw him again. It was telling that we went to the wildcat with LeQuint Allen and tight end Dan Villari rather than Braden Davis who did get some run in the bowl game and passed the ball fairly well, (at least compared to Allen and Villari), when not getting sacked.

It illustrates that you need to develop your back-up quarterbacks unless you got a line that is crushing the other team’s front seven. Failing that, you need mobile quarterbacks who can throw on the run and become a second running back so the defense doesn’t know who is going to get the ball on a running play. And you need more than one of them who is ready to go. Del Rio-Wilson’s and Davis’ four star status did them little good when they had no experience. Dino always said there wasn’t enough practice time to develop back-up quarterbacks. You can look at his record and see the results.

I haven’t seen their names in the portal lists or heard anything about it so assume CDRW and Davis will be back next year. They will surely be playing behind Kyle McCord, who shocked the country by transferring from Ohio State to Syracuse. Both of them are four-star recruits so they must have some talent. They have some experience. People are dismissing them because they were sent into the games in impossible situations. I still think they have a chance to be quality back-ups and compete for the #1 spot after McCord leaves. But the new coaching staff has to be committed to doing that.


Receivers

Then:

D’Marcus Adams might be the fastest player on the team. He came to us from Florida Atlantic last year after originally going to Florida State after having been a 3-star recruit, the 92nd best WR prospect in the country. He didn’t play the first year but in his second year had 3 catches for 94 yards, one a 46 yarder but no scores. He also returned 10 kickoffs for 236 yards. Syracuse.com: “The 6-foot, 180-pound Adams has hit a 4.3 40 time and can leap close to 12 feet in the broad jump. He did it all on the track: long jump, high jump, triple jump, 110-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, 400 meters, 4x100 relay, 4x400 relay, shot put. Adams holds or shares five school records, Anthony said, including a 13.82-second finish in the 110 hurdles during his senior year. At the time, it was the second-fastest time in the nation.”

Damien Alford is the tallest receiver on the team, a splendid target for the quarterback. He’s got good speed. He alternates spectacular catches with drops. His fundamentals could use some work. Sometimes he gets too close to the out-of-bounds line and makes catches that don’t count. But his potential is still considerable. All he has to do is look at his teammate Gadsden to see what he could become.

Oronde Gadsden is virtually the same size as Alford, (6-5 216) and 247 rated him the same, (3 stars, #184WR). They listed him as a tight end, which meant we were finally throwing to the tight end but Oronde, who is another NFL legacy, (but his father, Oronde Sr., played the same position, catching 227 balls for 3,252 yards and 22 scores for the Dolphins from 1998-2003), operates like a wide-out, which he would obviously be in the pros. After catching 2 passes for 12 yards as a freshman in 2021, Junior broke out last year with 61 catches from 975 yards – the most of any ‘tight end’ in the country, (16.0) and 6TDs, including the game winner with 38 seconds left against Purdue.

With all that tall timber on the outside, it ought to create openings for the guys in the slot and Trebor Pena is a guy who could take advantage of them. He’s got excellent speed and moves. As a freshman he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score. The thing is: he’s scored once since and not at all last year. He’s like a stick of dynamite from which the fuse has been pulled. It needs to be put back in and lit up.

I thought Umari Hatcher’s high school tape was the best of all the wide receivers we’ve recruited in recent years, but he’s had a hard time making his way up the depth chart, perhaps because he’s not as strong as his competitors, (he’s 6-3 183). But I think he’s another big talent.

Dan Villari transferred here from Michigan as a quarterback, (which I suppose he could still be in an emergency), but he transferred to tight end and had one reception for 22 yards last year. 247 had him as a 3 star but the #32 pro-style QB, (which sounds like he should have had a better career than he’s had).

Donovan Brown is another track star. In high school, “he won the Maryland 4A State Championship in the 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash and took third in the 100-meter dash”. 3 stars, the #205WR in the country. He’s not lacking in confidence: “It’s already impossible to guard me,” Brown said. “I haven’t met anybody as of right now that can guard me. And when we put the pads on, it gets worse.”

Darrell Gill Jr. is a 3-star from Texas who is another track man. He’s a 4.4 man in the 40 yard dash but his 169 pound weight on a 6-3 frame might hold him back until he can build himself up a bit.


Now:

The first turning point of the season, (most of them bad), occurred early in game 2 when Gadsden went down with a Lisfranc injury, (mid-foot dislocation or fracture) of his right foot and his season was over. No one was able to replace him. Alford continued to be inconsistent in his route-running and pass catching. He did manage to catch 33 passes for 610 yards (18.5) and 3 scores. Brown caught 27 for 321, (only 11.9) and 1TD. Hatcher came on as the season progressed, 32, 482 (15.1) and 3. But none of there Gadsden. Villari was a late revelation, both as a pass catcher (20/180/3) and a runner out of the wildcat, (55/326/2). Pena was also injured and never caught a pass. Adams caught on for 6 yards. He returned some punts and kickoffs early on but was careless with the ball and lost those jobs. Gill showed promise as a kickoff returner (12/262/0). Expect to see Gadsden and Villari playing roles in next year’s passing game and maybe Hatcher, too. McCord will know how to get the ball to them.

Running Backs

Then:

LeQuint Allen was pressed into service as a true freshman first to back up Tucker and then replace him for the bowl game, which Sean opted out of. “LA” was a 3 star out of New Jersey, the #83 running back prospect in the nation. Sean had been a 3-star, the #59 RB. LeQuint got 112 yards on just four carries and a score against Wagner after he replaced Sean in the second half, (he had a 90 yard non-scoring run), but had only run for 68 in our other 11 games, so no one knew what to expect in the bowl game against Minnesota, (Sean had opted out). We lost, (mostly because of special teams problems and a pick 6) but LeQuint had a fine game, rushing for 94 yards on 15 carries (6.3) and catching no less than 11 passes for 60 yards, although he didn’t score. (This against what statistically was the #4 defense in the country.) He looked like he might be an adequate replacement for Sean, perhaps not a superstar but a versatile back that would fit well into our offense.


Now:

LeQuint was our feature back, running the ball 247 times for 1,064 yards (4.3) and 9TDs and catching 38 passes, (most on the team) for 210 yards and another score. The second most carries went to QB Garrett Shrader and the third to TE Dan Villari. The second best for a running back was 45. He also looked to see what blocks he could throw – anything he could do to help the team. He won a law suit to play for this and will be back next year to play for it again and we can call be thankful for that. The play I most remember is one where he never touched the ball. It came in second game of the season, against Western Michigan. Shrader got flushed out of the pocket and threw a short pass to Donovan Brown, who cut across the field and took it to the house: 86 yards. 80 yards downfield, LeQuint Allen was organizing the interference, got in the way of the last defender and escorted Brown into the end zone. This despite the one thing missing from Allen’s skill set is explosive speed, which Brown has. But somehow he got down there to make sure his teammate scored and join in his celebration.



The line

Then:

Joe More is a senior but he’s a recent arrival from Richmond University. He played in 41 games for the Spiders, starting 37. Joe gave up 4 sacks in 542 pass plays last year and had a run blocking grade of 61.6, higher than anyone on the Syracuse team.

Chris Bleich transferred here from Florida, which created a lot of excitement because Florida is what Coach Mac used to call a “selector school” that had their choice of recruit and they chose Chris, a 4 star out of Pennsylvania rated the 19th best OT prospect, (per ESPN), but also because of Chris’s great size (6-6 325), and the fact that Chris played 13 games for the Gators and started 8. His freshman year featured the 8 starts and Florida went 11-2, gained 430 yards per game – 300 passing - and averaged 33 points.

Our biggest guy is Kalan Ellis, (6-6 and 375 and holding), from Coach Babers’ native state of Hawaii. He was a 3 star, the #89 ‘IOL’, (Interior Offensive Lineman’). The question is: how much should he weigh, (it was 388 last year)? Babers said that Ellis is the type of big man who retains his mobility even at an unusually large size. But I suspect even Babers felt 388 was a bit much. Nonetheless, Ellis saw extensive playing time as a freshman and started last year. He’s now played in 20 games and started 14. He gave up just one sack from his position last year. He lined up next to Bergeron and it will be interesting to see how much that impacted his performance.

Josh Ilaoa sounds like he’s from Hawaii but he was born in Seattle and grew up in North Carolina. His parents have a Hawaiian/Samoan background. He was a 3 star, the #122 defensive tackle in the country. He’s switched to offense here, (and built himself from 280 to 334 pounds). He’s played in 33 games, starting in 2 of them, playing both center and guard. This is his big chance to take a starting job. “He is faster than he looks. You wouldn’t think he could move like that.”

J'Onre Reed calls himself “The Big General”. He was the anchor of a Hutchinson JC line that led that team to an 11-1 record and the junior college national championship game. The year before that he was at…wait for it…Blinn College in Texas. He’s been a 3 star in Kansas, the #67 player and #6 IOL. That’s his JUCO rating. “The nickname came spontaneously thanks to one of Reed’s teammates at Hutchinson following a strong win over a rival team in which Reed had commanded the offense.” Nunes: “The newcomer’s extreme physicality could earn him opportunity for playing time this fall.” That’s what we need: extreme physicality.

Members of Syracusefan.com created their own NIL fund to support an athlete on the Syracuse football team and they chose Enrique Cruz Jr. It was a good choice as Enrique has made his way up the depth chart and has a good shot at a starting position on this year’s line. He was a 4 star recruit and the #23 offensive tackle. He filled in for Bergeron when he was injured last season and played in his stead when Matthew opted out of the bowl game. Enrigue appeared in eight games with five starts, three at right tackle, two at left tackle “He’s got all the tools to be one of the best linemen in this conference,” Bergeron said. “He gotta figure out a few things, but he got all the tools.” He could be the new Bergeron.

Dave Wohlabaugh Jr. is, naturally, the son of Dave Wohlabaugh sr. Dave senior played for SU, the for the Patriots, Browns and Rams from 1995-2003. Dave junior was a 3 star, the #69OT. He played for Kentucky in ten games, with one start and hit the transfer portal to go to Dad’s alma mater. Nunes: ”We expect Wohlabaugh to get a long look along the offensive line in camp. It will be interesting if he’s taking reps at multiple positions along the line as the Orange look to solidify that group.”


Now:

More, Ellis and Wohlabaugh all got hurt and hardly played. Bleich also has a history of injuries and also false starts and that continued. Cruz didn’t turn into the next Bergeron and neither did anyone else. The line was subpar most of the season but then strangely blocked very well for wildcat. But they blocked nobody in the disastrous bowl game. The only good thing is that we should have a lot of experienced guys coming back to join the offensive linemen Fran Brown is recruiting. Let’s hope they can get Kyle McCord and LeQuint Allen the opportunities they need to made the plays we need to have them make – and stay in one piece.
 
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Dino always said there wasn’t enough practice time to develop back-up quarterbacks.

One of Dino’s bigger BS excuses. Glad he’s gone so the backups can be developed like the rest of the country seems to be capable of.
 
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