The Syracuse Orange enter the bye week with a record of 5-0 and a top 25 ranking. It hasn’t always been easy or pretty, but all that matters is that number in the win column.
We decided to share our thoughts on the season so far and we welcome your opinion in the comments.
What’s been the biggest surprise through five games?
Christian: The emergence of Oronde Gadsden. One of the reasons for Syracuse’s lackluster offense through the last two seasons was the lack of a number one wideout. Now the Orange have that with Gadsden. Because of his position versatility and athleticism, he’s a matchup nightmare all around the field. There’s a reason why he’s one of the guys usually in motion pre-snap - so that he can take advantage of how opponents are defending.
Mike: The effectiveness of the pass-heavy offense. I came into the season hoping that the new offensive system would at least make Garrett Shrader look decent. He’s well beyond that point. And there has been a plethora of receiving options. It’s nice that Gadsden more-or-less fills the hole that’s been here since Taj Harris departed, but having this many different dependable sets of hands brings its own rewards.
Kevin: I’ll go with something different here - maximizing opportunities. Syracuse has benefited from Purdue’s late-game meltdown and overcome a four-turnover game. Luck doesn’t mean anything if you can’t make the necessary plays to turn that good fortune into a victory. It says a lot about the locker room that the Orange have been able to battle through the weirdness and come out on top.
Steve: The lack of consistency and style of play of the offensive line has to be the biggest surprise. It’s not a good surprise, but a unit that returned five starters from an improved group is one that was expected to impress on the year. It hasn’t done that, particularly the extremely veteran right side of the line.
What area needs the most improvement over the rest of the season?
Christian: The offensive line, which is not a big surprise if you look through the first half of the season. First it was the penalties, which continue to be an issue. Now its the lack of ability to open up any holes for Sean Tucker to cut through. Against the rest of the ACC defenses, most of whom are better than the teams that the Orange have faced, Tucker might not get the chance to run because the offensive line gets overpowered too early.
Mike: Ditto on the o-line. It should not have taken five weeks and the equivalent of a JV squad to get Tucker some wide running lanes. The run blocking has to improve to have any shot against the rest of the ACC slate.
Kevin: Coaching decisions. Now this doesn’t mean Dino Babers has been bad this season but as the opponents get tougher, the Orange are going to need him to be on point with his game management. Syracuse had some poor clock management (and play-calling) late against Virginia and we saw last year that the margin for error is too slim to be careless with late-game situations.
Steve: The initial run defense. If the Orange are to hold up against this murderer’s row of a schedule here, they’re going to need to keep people off of the linebackers. Caleb Okechukwu has been a stalwart, but losing Terry Lockett is going to need the unit to jump to the next level to increase their productivity, especially with the depleted Sam linebacker position behind them as well.
Who is your vote for most improved on offense?
Christian: Garrett Shrader. He’s had a couple of rougher games against the tougher competition, but you would’ve taken that Shrader over pretty much any Shrader that the Orange saw last season. Jason Beck has done a great job of retooling Shrader’s mechanics and Robert Anae has done a fairly decent job of taking advantage of his quarterback’s strengths. Syracuse could be in a vastly different position if Shrader had lesser performances this season.
Mike: Garrett Shrader. I’m repeating myself a bit but his emergence as an accurate passer is a breath of fresh air. So far #6 has really only played one bad half of football and has otherwise been the focal point of the offense instead of Sean Tucker. Even against Purdue, to be beaten up almost all game long and still find a way to come back in the end? That shows Shrader is a changed man this season.
Kevin: Just to mix it up a little I’ll take Oronde Gadsden II. Last season he had a total of two receptions for 24 yards. Through these five games he’s got 23 catches for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s shown he can find open spots against zone coverage. On the game-winning play against Purdue he showed he could beat man coverage and he’s become Shrader’s main weapon in the passing game. We wondered who could step up and give the Orange a #1 receiving option and Gadsden has been producing at an All-ACC level.
Steve: I’ve got to go with Shrader, I know that’s not original (see above) but it’s true. He’s hands down the most improved of all the pieces of this puzzle. His emergence has really changed the look of this offense and should, offensive line willing, open space for our workhorse in Sean Tucker.
Who is your vote for most improved on defense?
Christian: Caleb Okechukwu. It’s hard to not be impressed with his leadership and effectiveness this season. He consistently applies pressure and takes up space, giving opportunities to Marlowe Wax and Mikel Jones as well. We knew coming into the season that Okechukwu was a known commodity, but his influence on the game was the only question, given the past performances of the defensive line in the 3-3-5. He’s been excellent.
Mike: Garrett Williams. Back in the spring, Williams said that one of his biggest goals this season was to get back in the business of causing turnovers. He already has three (two picks and a forced fumble + recovery) through these first five games. Add those to his usual pass defense and you’ve got the best Garrett we’ve seen in his three years as a starter. Like the other Garrett on the team, Williams only has one not-so-great outing so far, while his others have been pretty fun to watch.
Kevin: Kevon Darton played in eight games last season and finished with nine tackles. He was awarded a scholarship in August and the former walk-on has surpassed his career total with 15 tackles this season. Due to the Terry Lockett injury, Darton has become the starter at nose tackle and he’s going to be a critical player the rest of the way.
Steve: Derek McDonald is the name that jumps at me. Thrust into the roll after only appearing in two games during his redshirt season last year, he’s jumped up into the spot that Stefon Thompson vacated with the injury. He’s filled in as well as he could the two games he was healthy. Also a nod to Leon Lowery and Anwar Sparrow who have been subsequently thrown into the fray with McDonald’s recent injury.
Now it’s time to share your thoughts. Let us know in the comments what’s stood out for you so far this season.