The offense under first year coordinator George McDonald ran in fits and starts. The team topped 400 yards of output in a game five times and fell just short on two other occasions. The team’s record showed success in those outings, winning five of those seven games. McDonald’s plan for his second year at the helm of the Orange offense? Ramp up the speed and get more plays off.
The man in charge of ramping up that offense? Senior Terrel Hunt, who started the final ten games of the season at quarterback, put forth his best play late in the year, accounting for over 600 yards of total offense in the team’s last two wins. The Texas Bowl MVP returns with an even stronger grip on the starting job and, with word coming out of preseason camp that his deep ball is getting better to augment the experience under his belt, Hunt should continue to build on those late season efforts. Hunt’s health is paramount to the team’s success, as not only has no backup quarterback has taken a snap in a game thus far, but no one among sophomores Mitch Kimble and Austin Wilson and freshman A.J. Long have solidified a grasp on the backup job. Wilson currently leads the derby for the #2 spot, trailed by Long, then Kimble.
Even with the loss of Jerome Smith, who declared for the NFL draft after rolling up over 2,000 yards in his last two seasons, the Syracuse running back corps is still a strong unit. Senior Prince-Tyson Gulley averaged 5.5 yards on 83 carries while sophomores George Morris II and Devante McFarlane each piled up over 300 yards in limited action. Senior Adonis Ameen-Moore has dropped over 20 pounds heading into his final season and looks to regain the short-yardage role he had as a sophomore when he had five rushing touchdowns. The Orange will use a fullback sparingly, but when they do, it will be senior Clay Cleveland lining up in that spot.
The backfield will be protected by an experienced group of linemen, as four of the returning players started all 13 games last season. A two-year starter at left tackle, Sean Hickey returns to lead the unit in his redshirt senior year after considering jumping to the NFL after last season. Hickey received a couple national preseason honors, as he was named to watch lists for both the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Trophy, and was also the lone SU player named to the All-ACC Preseason First Team. Last year, Rob Trudo, who has started 22 games in the last two campaigns, lined up next to Hickey. This year, Trudo is moving over to right guard. Last year, the right side was manned by senior tackle Ivan Foy and redshirt junior guard Nick Robinson, both of whom were first-time starters. With Robinson combatting a sprained foot that will sideline him for at least the season opener, junior guard Omari Palmer stepped up into the first team slot next to Hickey on the left side of the line. With continuity being such a key on the offensive line, a good start could lead to Palmer unseating Robinson after the latter returns to health. Replacing Macky MacPherson at center is senior John Miller, who saw action in five games last year for SU after transferring from junior college. A pair of juniors, tackle Michael Lasker and center Jason Emerich, lead the players likely to either see spot duty or be summoned in case of injury.
The receiver unit is, well, complicated. The Orange entered fall camp with 17 players listed at wide receiver (a couple have since gotten banged up, sophomore Corey Winfield flipped to cornerback, and freshman Corey Cooper transferred out of the Syracuse program) and many figure to see snaps on the field. Junior Ashton Broyld, sophomore Brisly Estime, and senior Jarrod West figure to be the three biggest contributors, just as they were last year when they combined for over 100 receptions and 1,100 yards. Broyld, who led the team in receiving as a sophomore, looks to convert his size and athleticism into a breakout season. Estime, who set up the winning score in the Texas Bowl with a 70-yard punt return as a freshman, looks to infuse the offense with that big-play ability. West, who had 147 receiving yards against Wagner, is the most experienced player in the group, having amassed 85 catches in his first three seasons.
Other players in the receiver mix include junior Alvin Cornelius III, who had seven receptions against Boston College last season, senior Quinta Funderburk, the Arkansas transfer who is beginning to face “now or never” status with two seasons of eligibility remaining, senior Jeremiah Kobena, whose production has gradually increased in his three previous seasons, and sophomore Sean Avant. The latter, who did not see the field as a true freshman, has garnered praise from Hunt, who calls Avant the best route-runner on the team. Freshman Steve Ishmael has turned heads in camp and McDonald said he will see the field, as well.
While tight end has become a lesser priority on the team, junior Josh Parris, who caught 13 passes, would be the starter if not for having minor knee surgery about a week before the season. Parris, who snagged a pair of touchdown passes against Boston College, including the game-winner, is expected to return to the team during mid-September, but his loss will be felt. Kendall Moore, who snagged a dozen passes last season as a true freshman, but has been slowed by injury in preseason, and freshman Jamal Custis, who played wide receiver in high school, look to pick up the slack. The coaching staff likes the potential mismatches the 6’5” Custis presents and are giving him some time in practice in red zone drills.
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS (7): WR Ashton Broyld, RT Ivan Foy, LT Sean Hickey, QB Terrel Hunt, RG Nick Robinson, LG Rob Trudo, WR Jarrod West
LEADING RETURNING RUSHERS: Terrel Hunt – 106 carries for 500 yards and seven touchdowns; Prince-Tyson Gulley – 83 carries for 456 yards and four touchdowns
LEADING RETURNING PASSER: Terrel Hunt – 167 completions on 273 attempts for 1,638 yards with ten touchdowns and eight interceptions
LEADING RETURNING RECEIVERS: Ashton Broyld – 52 receptions for 452 yards; Brisly Estime – 28 receptions for 257 yards and one touchdown; Jarrod West – 26 receptions for 397 yards and one touchdown