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Syracuse football: 2022 season recap and final thoughts

We’re reflecting on what was an unusual season for the Orange.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Anderson Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

Syracuse Orange football finished the 2022 campaign 7-6 after falling in the Pinstripe Bowl 28-20. It was a year with mixed emotions, with thoughts of the strong 6-0 start seemingly fading away while injuries and superior opponents derailed the remainder of the season. Still, there was plenty of good to take away from this season, and that’s exactly what the TNIAAM staff is doing today:

Biggest Moment

Mike: Students rushing the field following the 24-9 win over #15 NC State. Between COVID keeping them away from sports for a year, followed by losing seasons from all three men’s Dome teams, being put on a national stage in front of a capacity crowd and earning a bowl berth was a special moment for this group of fans.

Dom: I’ll go with the Clemson game. In hindsight, it was the clear turning point of the season, but it was also just an entertaining game to watch even if it ended in a loss for Syracuse. Honorable mention: still can’t get over Shrader's game-winning touchdown versus the Boilermakers.

Kevin: Garrett Williams’ interception against Louisville. It was the type of play Syracuse has given up in recent years and his ability to recognize what was happening and get back and make that play in the end zone gave the team and fanbase a little bit of faith to start the year off.

Steve: Ja’Had Carter’s scoop and score against Clemson. Even in the loss, that play had the energy and momentum swing that kept the Orange right there for the duration. It was a great play and almost helped the Orange to 7-0 on the year.

Christian: Garrett Shrader’s winning touchdown to Oronde Gadsden against Purdue. I don’t think fans started to truly believe Syracuse could go to a bowl game until that play happened. More importantly, that marked the moment that Gadsden became the alpha in Syracuse’s receiving unit that hadn’t been around since Trishton Jackson.

Team MVP

Mike: Oronde Gadsden burst onto the scene to fill the No. 1 Receiver role, with 61 catches for 969 yards and 6 TDs. Nobody expected such a breakout performance from the sophomore, but his chemistry with Garrett Shrader was a sight to behold - one that I hope carries into next season.

Dom: Even in a slightly-down year compared to his performance in 2021, Sean Tucker’s value led to the growth of Garrett Shrader, Oronde Gadsden, and the rest of Syracuse’s offense. And even then, he still finished with over 1,000 yards and 13 total touchdowns on the season.

Kevin: The Orange were a different team when a healthy Garrett Shrader was under center. Shrader took major steps forward in 2022 and his ability to throw the ball over the middle combined with his running, gave defenses fit. The fact that Shrader still has room to grow as a passer should excite Syracuse fans.

Steve: Has to be Gadsden for me. The wideout did everything he could to create offense from Shrader in spots we hadn’t seen prior to the Anae offense. He opened the field for Tucker, he gave Shrader a release valve, whether he should have been or not. Tucker was the best player hands down, Jones and Wax were the heart and would of the D but as far as a piece that allowed the rest of the puzzle to fall into place, it was Gadsden for me.

Christian: Marlowe Wax. Mikel Jones got a ton of eyes this year due to his leadership and impact, but Wax was the main linebacker making the game-changing plays and delivering the big hits. Especially after Stefon Thompson went out due to injury, the load that Jones would’ve had to carry himself would’ve been insurmountable if not for Wax’s heightened performance this season.

Returning Player to Watch in 2023

Mike: Caleb Okechukwu had plenty of game-changing moments in his own breakout campaign, and the rising senior announced that he will return to the Orange for another season. I’m looking for him to become the new leader of the Mob defense and ensure this unit remains dominant under new DC and 3-3-5 founder Rocky Long.

Dom: LeQuint Allen has some big shoes to fill with Tucker declaring for the NFL Draft, but he looks poised to become a productive runner who can also make plays in the open field off of a reception. Expect Allen to become a well-known name in due time.

Kevin: Marlowe Wax takes over the defensive captaincy from Mikel Jones next year. He showed growth as a pass-rusher this year and we expect he’ll slide into the MLB role and be expected to provide Syracuse with leadership and tackling in 2023.

Steve: Chris Bleich. He is coming back, one season off groin surgery, to play his final year of eligibility. If he can be a veteran anchor to what will be a very young offensive line, the Orange offense should be able to show some growth. Having both guards returning can only benefit the program, with Kalan Ellis and Enrique Cruz the other two returning starters. It’s time for this unit to step up. Hopefully we can see in the spring where they sit.

Christian: Jason Simmons. He deserves as much credit as Ja’Had Carter did for the improved safety play this season. The Orange didn’t get tested very much over the middle and that was in large part due to the combined safety duo of Carter and Simmons. Now this is Simmons’ ship to steer, and he could be poised for a breakout season much like Carter just had.

Final Thoughts

Mike: If Syracuse finished 7-5, but won games in a different order, I feel like there would be a lot fewer complaints than there were. The Orange accomplished their goal of making a bowl game, then proceeded to keep that game very close despite unfavorable circumstances. With weaker opposition on the calendar and some transfers ready to make an immediate impact, I’m confident that SU will make a bowl again in 2023.

Dom: Similar to Mike’s response, I made the case back in early December that the Orange should be proud with a 7-5 regular season record given the slate of teams it played. Outside of the Virginia and Wagner matchups, this was a tough year and Syracuse held its own. Few people had Syracuse finishing above .500, and yet the Orange found its way into a bowl game. It was definitely an up-and-down season, but it’s hard to take away from how much this team fought, especially given that it had the 25th-hardest schedule in college football using preseason evaluations.

Kevin: This was a successful season for the Orange. It had plenty of ups and downs throughout but overall the program took a step forward. Now it’s on Syracuse to carry this into 2023 and once again return to a bowl game.

Steve: I think this year was a more successful year than anyone was remotely expecting, heading into the season. The only sour taste is the ride that got us there. The strong start and comparatively weak looking finish tainted what was a campaign that exceeded expectations on almost all accounts. It has to be seen wherever they can build on that going forward, but the foundation is laid.

Christian: This season should be a blueprint for how the Orange should play most seasons. Take what you do well and emphasize it. It felt like for the first time in quite a while, Syracuse played to its strengths instead of playing the way it hoped to eventually play. Trying to force players to play a style they’re not comfortable or good at is just going to lead to ineffective results. An emphasis was placed on building around the strengths of the team and it worked.