In his time with the Syracuse Orange football team, wide receiver Jarrod West has come to symbolize a lot of what this program is to its fans since Doug Marrone took over in 2009: Excellent in spurts, fun to watch when they're good, but mostly full of potential. That's not a knock on the program, nor is it a knock on West. It's just what happens to expectations when performance can be inconsistent -- for one reason or another.
In 2012, West was able to function in the shadows behind top targets Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales, giving Ryan Nassib an excellent third option for both short and deep passes. His potential impact was teased out in camp before that season, alluding to what would be a very productive year -- 43 catches, 588 yards and two scores.
With Sales and Lemon out the door after 2012, all eyes shifted to West as the depth chart's most experienced and viable option at receiver. Both Terrel Hunt and George McDonald identified him as the passing game's top weapon heading into 2013, and the stage was set for him to become a true no. 1 wideout. West missed three games with injuries, and pulled in just 26 passes for 433 yards and a score. Many weeks, he was a complete ghost, topping 100 yards just once (against Wagner).
So coming into 2014, the team and fans alike weren't exactly sure what they'd be getting out of West in his senior season. He wasn't the team's top receiving threat by any means, and the depth chart seemed to indicate a preference for returning, speedy players like Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime, plus newcomer Steve Ishmael, over the veteran West. And yet, here we are in week six, and the headlines read:
West proves reliable deep-ball threat for Syracuse passing game in loss to Notre Dame
So again, is this a figment of our imaginations? Or is this finally the return (or arrival) of the player we always assumed Jarrod West would become?
Four games into 2014 (though he's only recorded statistics in three), West has 16 catches for 236 yards. It's already his third-best season in Orange, numbers-wise, and he's just another big week away from surpassing his 2013 season too. After starting the year modestly (three receptions, 59 yards) vs. Villanova, the senior has 11 catches for 177 yards in the past two weeks -- including eight grabs for 103 against Notre Dame alone. His 51-yard catch against Maryland and 33-yarder against Notre Dame are two of the longest passing plays of Syracuse's season thus far. And now, with Estime and Broyld injured for Friday's game against Louisville, this is certainly his best chance yet to prove he's the team's best receiving threat. And others see it, too. Said SU tackle Sean Hickey after Saturday:
"Jarrod’s becoming a big-play threat down the field and it’s very encouraging to see. It’s good to have a vertical passing game working like that. It helps out the running game a lot."
If it's true, and West is going to finally become the team's downfield option, it's a huge boost to a struggling offense. As we've mentioned, Syracuse actually moved the ball well through the air in spurts on Saturday, and having a reliable target should only help those plays become more frequent. After a career of downs, ups and downs again, West may be closing on a high note at Syracuse, and when the Orange need him most of all.
We opened with a veiled reference to one Mr. Kanye West in the headline, so we'll close with one, too. Here's hoping Jarrod's arrival as the target we've always wanted him to be is also a huge wake-up call to this offense on Friday...