At the midpoint of the season, the Syracuse Orange are 1-5, with many ready to throw in the towel on the season due to a myriad of injuries and scheduling that have left the Orange firmly out of any kind of postseason picture. While it may be painful, the TNIAAM Football team each graded each position group, and below is the cumulative grade for each unit based on the 5 individual grades. We’re sure this totally arbitrary system is 100% accurate and leaves no room for discussion.
While some may want to hyper focus on certain 4th down calls from the last week, the coaching staff has done plenty of good this season. The defensive shift to a 3-3-5 has yielded plenty of positives, and while the offense hasn’t seen as many rave reviews, there has been growth week to week, especially considering the quarterback injuries. However, a lack of preparedness for anyone beyond Rex Culpepper to take the helm is a glaring weakness of this team, along with a historically inefficient offense that only saw one remotely complete game with its starting QB at the helm. (Andy)
After a rough 2019, most were hoping Tommy DeVito came out of the gates with a bit more juice. And yet, it just didn’t happen — due to equal parts play-calling, offensive line issues and his own poor decision-making at times. However, Tommy was getting better with each each successive game, and looked to be turning a corner vs. Duke before his injury. Culpepper’s thrown touchdowns in relief, but has largely been at the helm of an inaccurate and mistake-heavy passing attack. Obviously the circumstances aren’t ideal. It’s okay to want something better from the QB situation, though. (John)
Running Backs: B
After the first two games of this season, I bet most fans thought that this grade would a D for the rest of the year. Then Syracuse’s Falcon in Sean Tucker appeared from a portal to say “On your left” to help bolster the Orange cause. Tucker has made a strong argument to be awarded Syracuse’s player of the season, which is high praise for a true freshman. The offense seems to flow more fluidly when he’s fighting for more yards than any other Syracuse running back can manage. If we were grading Tucker along this would be an A. The unfortunate fact that no other running back on the roster can seem to get anything going on the rush to push some sort of tempo brings the overall grade back down to a B. But if Tucker can stay healthy, the Orange have a dominant weapon at their disposal for the next few seasons. (Christian)
Wide Receivers: C-
There have been bright spots so far from this group. Taj Harris emerged as a #1 receiver and playmaker but his sideline behavior cost the team at Clemson. Nykeim Johnson has delivered some big plays but consistency overall drags this grade down. Drops in key situations like the 1st half at UNC have continued a bad trend from 2019. Moving forward we’ll see if Anthony Queeley and Ed Hendrix can provide more reason for optimism but I’d also like to see players like Justin Barron and Damien Alford get some targets. (Kevin)
Tight Ends: D
Overall, you can grade the Tight Ends one of two ways: either by what you see on the field as a result of their practice production, or what you see on the field as a something that could be greater. The inconsistent usage has resulted in just 6 receptions for Aaron Hackett and Luke Benson, with both averaging over 10 yards a reception. Ultimately, part of the inaction in the passing game is due to support in the blocking game, but sitting at the halfway mark with under ten catches can only be read as Gilbert not having faith in these two to take on a larger role. With minimal support from wide outs this year, that sentiment is all kinds of damning and confusing. (Andy)
Offensive Line: D
The offensive line definitely hasn’t been the most standout group on the squad this season, which is definitively an understatment. That said, they eeked out consistent “D” ratings across the board. While as a unit, they have given up the most sacks in FBS (26), they only gave up two against Clemson, the best squad they’ve faced. It’s been a season of ups and downs, with questionable health and limited depth. A positional shift, swapping the tackles, as well as an increased familiarity as a unit hopes to get this group on track for the second half of the season, but they’ve been a low point so far. If some individual performances can get shored up, the unit should look better against some of the defenses moving forward. (Steve)
Defensive Line: C
We knew that SU’s transition to a 3-3-5 would take some effort on the defensive line’s part, but there was a reasonable amount of confidence that they could pull it off given the veteran group returning there. So far, though, they’ve had a rough go of it as a whole. McKinley Williams, the team’s top run-stuffer, has been a top performer — but is still only one guy. Without experienced linebackers behind them, this scheme needs a lot from the line both in terms of pass-rushing and run-stopping. They just haven’t found nearly enough push this year, even against poor lines. (John)
The linebackers heading into the season were a question mark. For the last few years, the Orange have been turning over their linebacking corps and this year was no different. The difference this year is that the new starters are young and have a ton of potential. The addition of Geoff Cantin-Arku at the Mike as well as the emergence of true freshmen Stefon Thompson and Marlowe Wax, along with known commodities like Tyrell Richards have been welcome surprises. Mikel Jones on his own has had a season, at one point leading the nation in interceptions. That said, the unit hasn’t been stalwart, even downright bad in a few games, responding to the run, which pushes the grade of the whole group down. (Steve)
Coming into the season, there was a strong suspicion that the secondary would be the best unit for Syracuse. Despite the injuries that have destroyed the defensive back depth, I think that preseason suspicion has been correct. Ifeatu Melifonwu and Garrett Williams have been one of, if not the best cornerback duos in the conference and perhaps the country. They’re the top two players this year that have been targeted and haven’t allowed a touchdown.
The unfortunate part of Syracuse’s secondary is that all three starting safeties have been injured. Andre Cisco is out for the season and will go to the draft, Eric Coley has only played against North Carolina, and Trill Williams didn’t play the first half against Liberty and in the Clemson game. Rob Hanna, Ja’Had Carter, and Aman Greenwood have been called on to fill in for them and it shows as the inexperience among the safeties does show, especially in the second level of run defense. If the run defense was a little better, this could’ve been an A, as only one quarterback — Kenny Pickett — has found a great amount of success against the Syracuse secondary. (Christian)
Special Teams: B
Justin Lustig’s group continues to deliver positive results. Nolan Cooney won the punting job and with 50 punts he leads the ACC and ranks 4th in the conference in average. Andre Szymt hasn’t had a lot of opportunities so far but he’s 6 for 8 on field goals. The coverage units have done a pretty good job but the Orange haven’t gotten a lot out of the return game in 2020. (Kevin)
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