As pleased as we are with Sean Tucker’s performance this season, there’s no getting around the fact that the Syracuse Orange are incredibly one-sided on offense. SU can’t survive the entire year just handing the ball off to Tucker and running options with whoever’s at quarterback. The air attack has to get involved.
Dino Babers has always said that his offense starts with a strong run game. Right now, the run game is opening up opportunities for the flashy receiving numbers that we saw in the past from Amba Etta-Tawo, Steve Ishmael, Jamal Custis, and Trishton Jackson.
And while Taj Harris could be on his way to join those guys in high receiving yards, there’s no getting around the fact that no one is really helping out develop the passing attack behind Tucker’s strong runs. Harris is the only player with double digit catches and the only wide receiver above 100 receiving yards this season.
The targets are worse. Per Pro Football Focus, Harris has been targeted 22 times this season, by far and away the highest on the team. That’s also with Harris missing the Albany game. The next closest is Anthony Queeley, who has been targeted 14 times. No one else among the Syracuse receiving corps has over double digit targets.
That needs to change. As much as we harp on Syracuse for becoming too one-dimensional with Tucker, the Orange can’t be one-dimensional with Harris. He is an exciting playmaker, there’s no doubt about that. But there needs to be more balance in the ‘Cuse offense.
So how does Syracuse go about fixing this issue? Well the Orange need to identify where the problem is with SU receivers not getting the ball. It comes from three possible areas - the receivers themselves, the quarterbacks or the coaches.
It’s entirely possible that the receivers aren’t running great routes. Without an all-22 cam, we won’t really know for sure. Babers did blame one miss on a pass against Liberty on a bad route by Damien Alford. It’s possible that the receivers are suffering from a few problems themselves.
They could be, like Alford on that play Babers pointed out, running bad routes, which doesn’t create any separation from the defender. They could also be just not running fast or hard enough for the separation from a natural route to be created. Or, in a rare instance the past few seasons, the receivers could just not be finding open space on longer plays to help a scrambling QB with another option.
The second possible issue is with the quarterbacks themselves. Without getting too much in a Tommy DeVito-Garrett Shrader debate, there’s no doubt that both QBs have had various issues connecting with receivers not named Harris. Now this has been for a variety of reasons. Decision making has been a big factor. Both quarterbacks have shown a tendency to take too long getting rid of the ball before the pocket collapses. In Shrader’s case, he sometimes makes a decision too quickly.
Accuracy has also been an issue. With DeVito’s arm strength, he tends to overthrow his deep balls, whereas Sharder’s accuracy continues to be all over the place. We haven’t seen Shrader throw too much to determine if this final point is an issue or not, but DeVito is slowly returning to a bad habit of favoring tough sideline passes.
Finally, the coaching staff could also be an issue in getting the balls to receivers. It’s possible that the routes that they have receivers running are way too simple for defenders to read and cover. We know this since Syracuse has continued to run a simplified playbook to lessen complications when the Orange push the tempo.
The other issue with the coaching staff is the play calling. There have been a few moments this season that have had us scratching heads as to whether the quarterback had an option at all to work with. Situational passing as well has been an issue, with certain plays being called in the wrong situation.
So what do I think is the issue? I think it’s a mixture of the quarterback play and the coaching staff. Some of the throws and decision making haven’t been great from either Orange QB, but the coaching staff needs to help out here. There’s talent in the receiving corps (and the tight ends room as well), and it seems like at times that players aren’t being used at their full potential. Mixing up the play calling to have more inside options as well should help the receivers get more balls and targets.
Whatever the diagnosis is, someone from the Orange receiving room needs to step up. No one yet has proven to be enough of a threat to remove the focus from Tucker and Harris. That makes Syracuse predictable and easy to prepare and defend for.
Someone needs to find another way to give Syracuse more options to win.