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Syracuse football: Run game, pass rush lead first Orange spring scrimmage

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No Dungey meant the passing attack gave way to a stronger rushing effort.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

After a couple weeks of spring football practice, the Syracuse Orange held their first scrimmage over the weekend. On Saturday, the team ran 148 plays in 90 minutes -- exactly the sort of torrid pace you’d expect from a Dino Babers offense.

Given the lingering injuries from the offseason, Coach saw it as an opportunity to really see what SU has with some of the younger and less experienced players:

“I thought it was fun to see a lot of guys we haven’t seen in games get out here and show us some of the things they can do,” Babers said. “I think the underbelly is maturing.”

Like last spring, SU’s defense seems to be looking good in the early going here — which may or may not create worry about the opposite side of the football (these are scrimmages, after all, so take it with a grain of salt). The defense did not allow a touchdown pass on Saturday, while recording 10 sacks and two takeaways. Sacks have been in short supply for Syracuse over the last few seasons, so that sort of uptick in-game would be welcome.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

As for the Orange offense, they did manage to move the ball on the ground, picking up seven rushing scores. Redshirt freshman QB Tommy DeVito saw his first scrimmage action with the first-team as starter Eric Dungey didn’t participate while he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery. The senior has been throwing in practice up until this point, however. Babers wasn’t too concerned about a scrimmage without the team leader.

“We know what Eric can do. He’s seen our defense so much, it’s not as challenging to him as it is to some other people,” Babers said. “We’ve got some quarterbacks we need to take a look at. This is our best opportunity to take a look at them, so we did that.”

DeVito wasn’t the only quarterback to get reps under center, either. Clayton Welch and Chance Amie also got extended run with the second-team.

For those wondering where Rex Culpepper is, the redshirt sophomore announced on Friday that he’s been diagnosed with a treatable form of testicular cancer. There’s been no timetable set for his treatment or when he might return. We wish him the best in his recovery after a scary diagnosis.

Despite the lack of much passing success for the Orange without one of its top depth chart options, the Orange’s other players in the backfield did look good carrying the ball — a continuation of the trend from late last season (though one that could also be attributable to facing a Syracuse run defense that struggled mightily in the final third of 2017, too).

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State transfer wide receiver Trishton Jackson had one rushing score on a jet sweep to lead off the game. Nykeim Johnson got some burn with similar plays at times last season, and you’d have to think it becomes a larger part of SU’s repertoire with so many fast players available on the perimeter.

Moe Neal scored a long 65-yard touchdown; something that’s become commonplace for the junior. He also added a red zone score from inside the 10 later on.

Walk-on Luke Erickson also had two rushing TDs. Dontae Strickland and Otto Zaccardo had one apiece as well.

But as mentioned, this was a strong defensive effort for Syracuse. Last year’s sack leader Alton Robinson had 1.5 on the day, as did Josh Black, who appears to be back and fully healthy now after missing most of 2017. McKinley Williams, Kingsley Johnathan, Nadarius Fagan, Justin Ellis, Chris Slayton and Juan Wallace each record a sack as well. Shaq Grosvenor and Andrew Armstrong had a half-sack each.

The two turnovers were both opportunistic. Linebacker Tyrell Richards recovered a fumbled snap (impressive work from the back of the front-seven there). Scoop Bradshaw had the other — an interception off a tipped ball from Christopher Frederick. Both players nabbed starting cornerback roles last year and never relinquished them. They had some great moments in there, but not without some struggle. Hopefully we see more of what made them look much improved in the early parts of 2017.

In recapping the event, Babers mentioned fundamentals and that young players “... have to make sure they know how to operate every single tool on their tool belt.” If you’re now picturing Babers as either Batman or Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, you’re not alone.

Practice resumes this week and Syracuse will also have one more scrimmage before the spring game on April 13.