As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a unit-by-unit preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re taking a look at the running backs, one of the deepest and most talented units on Syracuse.
Syracuse split the starting role last season between Moe Neal and Dontae Strickland, and Strickland exhausted his eligibility after a senior season where he rushed for 588 yards on 121 attempts (4.9 avg.) and six touchdowns.
Though he was just third on the team in rushing yards (after Neal and Eric Dungey), Strickland still earned a spot with the Arizona Cardinals out of minicamp after skipping graduation.
Neal is an obvious choice to return to a starting role coming off a season where he rushed for 869 yards and five touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry. He’s also shown the ability to be a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, making the highlight grab and run of the Camping World Bowl, snaring a pass from Dungey when he was under duress to take it 42 yards down field.
And since Neal and Strickland shared the starting position last year, it’s reasonable to think that Neal and Oklahoma transfer Abdul Adams will be in the same kind of platoon.
Adams was eligible for the bowl game, and rushed for a pair of touchdowns in Syracuse’s 34-18 win over West Virginia. The first came when he bulldozed a linebacker and made a second push past the goal line. The second was more of a traditional run between the tackles, showing both his power and vision.
In his sophomore year at Oklahoma, he rushed 59 times for 542 yards for an eye-popping average of 9.2 per carry.
In fullback packages, Chris Elmore has proven to be an elite blocker and also added two touchdowns as a ball carrier in 2018. He’ll be shifting back and forth between tight end and the back field, though he missed the spring game with a leg injury.
WHO’S BACKING THEM UP
In his true freshman season, Jarveon Howard quickly established himself as one of the team’s primary threats in short yardage situations, finishing with seven rushing touchdowns, including one in the Camping World Bowl. He finished with 68 rushes for 315 yards (4.6 avg.), and should push for carries.
The sleeper of the group is true freshman running back Jawhar Jordan. He flashed his speed in the spring game, beating the entire defense down field for a touchdown in the second half. He would’ve had a second touchdown later had it not been called back for a offensive hold.
The running backs are one of the most experienced, talented and deepest units on the entire team, and figures to be a huge asset so long as the offensive line falls into place. The combination of the speedy Neal and Jordan combined with the power of Adams and Howard should provide for plenty of production out of the back field. If any of the rushers break 1,000 yards, it will be the first time since Jerome Smith in 2012.