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Fixing the Syracuse running game by throwing the ball

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The solution isn’t running just to run, so let’s talk about what the Orange can do

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Syracuse
An effective passing game can open up the run
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Before the Syracuse Orange even began the 2017 season, the offensive line was a concern. The loss of Aaron Roberts was huge, and that the inexperienced line was probably going to be challenged as a result. Two games into the season, the group has struggled to open up anything in the running game.

Syracuse has run the ball 90 times for 281 yards; an average of just 3.12 yards per carry (and that includes Eric Dungey’s runs).

The inability to run the ball was a key factor in last week’s loss to Middle Tennessee State, as the Orange ran 49 times for 126 yards (2.57 yards per carry) and failed to convert on red zone opportunities. According to Bill C’s Advanced Stats Profile, Syracuse ranks 112th in Rushing Success Rate. That’s not a recipe for success as the Orange try to find a way to bowl eligibility.

NCAA Football: Central Connecticut State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Dungey leads the Orange with 28 attempts for 104 yards. Running backs Dontae Strickland and Moe Neal have combined for 97 yards on 36 carries. Some have called for more opportunities for freshmen Chris Elmore (eight attempts for 28 yards) and Markenzy Pierre (nine attempts for 46 yards against Central Connecticut), but I also think the Orange have another approach to take, and that’s to focus on areas of the passing game.

Get Ravian Pierce involved

The junior college transfer was supposed to provide the passing game with another threat. After two games, Pierce has four receptions for one yard and one touchdown. The issues on the offensive line have meant that Pierce has been used too often as an extra blocker and not as a receiver. On the final fourth down play last weekend, both Pierce and Strickland remained in to help block, limiting the available receiving options and allowing the MTSU defense to have each Syracuse receiver doubled.

The tight end position might not be a staple in Dino Babers’s offense, but the Orange would be wise to find ways to free Pierce and slow down the blitzes being sent Eric Dungey’s way.

Middle Tennessee v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Determine the deep threat

We knew the production of Amba Etta-Tawo would be hard to replace and right now Syracuse is struggling to find the deep threat needed to keep the defense honest. After two games, the Orange have only had four passes completed for more than 25 yards and eight of more than 15 yards. SU needs to find someone in the wide receiver corps who can stretch the defense and force the opponent’s safeties to play further off the line.

Energize Erv

Ervin Phillips is seeing more attention from defenses this season after last year’s breakout campaign. He’s hauled in 13 receptions for 107 yards, and also has two carries for 13 yards.

While his receptions per game are only one behind last year’s pace, the Orange need him to be better than last year to help the offense be more effective. Syracuse gave Erv a couple of carries on Saturday, and finding creative ways to get him the ball in space will lead to good things moving forward. We might see him running more screens and crossing routes to try and create the small openings he can turn into big plays.

I think that Syracuse needs to use the strength and potential of the passing game to help open up the run. Taking defenders out of the box, slowing down the blitzes, and making their opponents defend the entire field will help the offensive line and running backs find more space to move.

I know that some of you just want more Pierre and Elmore (and that could be part of any solution), but what are your other thoughts?