In all of the excitement around a win on Saturday, you might have passed right over a milestone for this Syracuse Orange offense. SU’s 300-yard effort was actually its first time hitting that plateau since 2014.
Back then, the option-based attack (still manned by George McDonald at the time) tallied 370 yards on the ground on 51 carries — a strong 7.25 average. But SU also lost that game against the Maryland Terrapins.
In fact, since the start of 2008, Syracuse has only amassed 300 or more yards on the ground four times. Part of that is a factor of the team being on the wrong end of a lot of games in that stretch. But the achievement on Saturday, largely on the strength of a handful of big runs, was also notable for the lack of a run game exhibited since Dino Babers took over at SU.
Since last year, Syracuse has failed to hit the 300-yard mark total over the course of one four-game selection. Early results this season showed two games where the team couldn’t even manage four yards per carry (they had less than three vs. Middle Tennessee).
However, even with a struggling offensive line, the big plays managed to click on Saturday. SU had three runs over 40 yards. Eric Dungey led the way with a 74-yard gain, followed by Moe Neal (71 yards) and Sean Riley (41 yards).
Take out those three runs, and you’re left with 114 yards on 41 carries (2.78 yards per). That latter figure sounds par for the course on the rushing attack under Babers. But those explosive plays did happen, and they kept the Chippewas’ defense distracted enough to open up portions of the outside passing game.
In the future, we’d clearly love to have more balance. And there’s no way the same sort of gimmicks work against defenses like LSU, Florida State and Clemson. Dungey can’t outrun their future NFL defensive backs like he did CMU’s. And Riley’s going to have less time to let plays develop in front of him before he can burst up field.
Still, it’s a start, and one that provides clues for Syracuse about moving forward with this run game -- one that needs to be effective if the offense is going to get better. The quarterback scrambles and end arounds may not be how Babers typically prefers his run game to work. But given what’s occurred (not much) when the team’s tried that up-the-gut rushing style without the proper personnel, perhaps a change was all that the Orange needed. Even if it happened by accident.