Prince-Tyson Gulley wasn’t happy to be part of the running back group that couldn’t continue Syracuse’s rushing streak. Starting in 2008, the Orange featured a 1,000 yard rusher for five consecutive seasons. That trend ended last season, despite the team’s otherwise successful ground game. Jerome Smith came closest with 914 yards. And Gulley injured his ankle, which kept him out of two games and kept him well out of contention for the milestone.
Now, Smith has left for the NFL, leaving Gulley with a bigger opportunity to be the feature back. The fifth-year senior is hoping it’s his turn to join the elite group of Syracuse backs who have had a 1,000 yard season.
"That’s what I’m aiming for," Gulley said Tuesday. "I’m going for 1,000 yards and trying to bring that back."
PTG’s career high in rushing yards is 830, which he did back in 2012. Last season, he managed just 456 yards on 83 carries. After waiting behind Smith for two years and behind Delone Carter and Antown Bailey before that, Gulley will take the field Friday night with a new role – Syracuse’s No. 1 back.
"I’m just ready for the season to start," he said. "I’m tired of knocking heads with my teammates. I’m ready to go put on pads and hit somebody else."
He's coming off of a solid offseason, coaches say, and has a better sense this year of George McDonald’s offense. On Tuesday, his running back coach not only backed up the 1,000 yard goal, but guaranteed it.
"We’ll find a way to get it done," coach DeAndre Smith said.
"I hate that we didn’t get that taken care of (in 2013)," Smith said. "I do have a goal that we’ll have a 1,000 yard rusher. We want to get the streak started up again."
Smith says that he's comfortable using PTG in an every down role and using him on carries between the tackles. But Gulley’s career at SU has been plagued by injuries, including a broken collarbone in 2011. He's played in every game only once in four previous seasons. His odds of reaching the 1,000 yard mark greatly depend on his ability to stay on the field.
Another challenge for Gulley, of course, is that Syracuse will go with a deep rotation of backs. George Morris and Devante McFarlane return after successful freshman seasons and Adonis Ameem-Moore has leapfrogged to No. 2 on the depth chart. Freshman Erv Philips also joins the mix.
Smith, who coached NFL backs Michael Turner and Mikel Leshoure at Northern Illinois, said he's never coached a group as talented as the current SU unit.
"Overall as a group, the best that I’ve ever had," Smith said. "I really feel like I can roll out four or five guys at any given time and we will not miss a beat."
Smith couldn’t give a rough estimate of how he plans to distribute carries, only saying that he expects to use all five running backs quite a bit.
During the first three years of Doug Marrone's tenure, Syracuse featured No. 1 backs who accounted for about two-thirds of the team's rushing yardage. Since Bailey graduated after 2011, SU has gone with more of a two-back system. By last season, the top back -- Jerome Smith -- only had 36 percent of the team's rushing attempts and yards. Given Syracuse's depth at the position and the scrambling ability of Terrel Hunt, it's unlikely to see a major change in 2014.
Gulley's saving grace may be the "full-bore offense" under McDonald. Last year, Syracuse ran 958 plays, the second most in team history. Although, SU may no longer use a primary ball carrier, the up-tempo attack creates more opportunity for everyone.
"That’s how I like to roll anyway," Gulley said. "I just like to keep going, make it fast and keep the defense on the field."