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Syracuse football needs to get the running game going

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And what were we saying about winning on 1st down?

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange are facing a lot of questions this week. After two straight losses the Orange are 1-2 and need to turn things around quickly. The good news is that Syracuse is home the next two weeks with opportunities to get back on track. The bad news is that the first three games have not given us any positive feelings about the running game.

Lost in all of the recent Eric Dungey vs. Tommy DeVito talk is that where Syracuse misses Dungey the most is in the running game. Last season the Orange averaged 202 yards per game on the ground and were getting 4.4 yards per carry. So far this season Syracuse is only averaging 92.3 yards per game (119th in the country) and a woeful 2.4 yards per carry (125th in the country).

We talked about the problem caused by an inefficient running game when we looked at first down production last week. Here’s what the Orange did against Clemson on first downs:

First down offense vs Clemson

1st half Run or Pass Yards 2nd Half Run or Pass Yards
1st half Run or Pass Yards 2nd Half Run or Pass Yards
Run 5 Run 4
Run 4 Pass 5
Pass 9 Pass (Interception) 0
Pass (Sack) -8 Run -2
Pass (Incomplete) 0 Run 1
Pass (Penalty) 15 Pass (Incomplete) 0
Pass 24 Run 1
Run 4 Pass 4
Run 2 Run 1
Pass (Sack) -7 Run 6
Pass (Sack) -2 Pass (Penalty) 15
Pass (Incomplete) 0 Run -2
Pass 17 Run -3
Pass (Incomplete) 0
Pass (Sack) -5
Run 4 15 3.75 yds per play 8 6
Pass 10 28 2.8 yds per play 5 19
14 43 3.07 yds per play 13 25
27 68 2.52 yds per play

SU gained 68 yards on first down plays against Clemson. 30 yards were from penalties, 27 yards came on the pass to Luke Benson, so the other 24 plays were for a net 11 yards. If the Orange want to increase their tempo then they need to be better on first down and that starts with running the ball.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Last year Dungey (4.1), Moe Neal (5.6), Dontae Strickland (4.9), and Jarveon Howard (4.6) all averaged over 4 yards per carry. Through three games, only Neal is averaging more than 4 yards per carry with Abdul Adams (3.4) and Howard (2.7) struggling to find room to run. If Syracuse can’t get the ground game on track then teams will continue to turn the Orange offense one-dimensional.

Both Clemson and Maryland currently rank in the top 10 in the country in rushing defense so is it their defense that held down the Syracuse rushing attack, or failure by the Orange? I’ll leave it to Steve to dig into the state of the Orange offensive line but the next two weeks present the prefect time to get the rushing attack engaged.

The Western Michigan Broncos come to the Dome next weekend allowing opponents to 196 yards per game on the ground (111th in the country) on 5.2 yards per carry this season. This includes giving up a whopping 7.4 yards per rush to the Michigan State Spartans. After that it’s a visit from Holy Cross, a team who gave up over 400 yards rushing to the Navy Midshipmen earlier this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Holy Cross at Navy Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Looking at the rest of the 2019 opponents right now only the NC State Wolfpack and Pittsburgh Panthers have top-50 rushing defenses. If Syracuse is going to get the running game back on track then the next two games present the perfect opportunity to get some confidence before those October contests.