As we countdown to kickoff in September, 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, which is one of Syracuse’s deepest, most talented units.
- Moe Neal: With all of the legendary running backs that played at Syracuse, Neal managed to carve out a place in SU history, finishing ninth on the all-time rushing list with 2,560 yards. In his final year of eligibility, Neal started all 12 games, rushing for 846 yards, and had a team best 1,088 all-purpose yards to go with seven touchdowns.
- Otto Zaccardo: Zaccardo was one of SU’s feel good stories of 2019. The former walk-on was granted a scholarship for the 2019 season, and played nine games as a member of Syracuse’s special teams. He appeared in 24 games in his Syracuse career, finishing with eight carries for 25 yards.
Syracuse has built plenty of depth behind Neal in the past few years, and the two names that immediately come to mind as starters are redshirt senior Abdul Adams and bruising junior Jarveon Howard. Not surprisingly, Adams and Howard were listed 1 and 2 respectively atop the depth chart released in spring.
Adams, an Oklahoma transfer, spent 2019 as the primary backup to Neal, finishing third on the team in rushing with 336 yards and three touchdowns.
Howard, used primarily as a short yardage back in his first season at SU, expanded his role last year, and actually outrushed Adams, finishing with 337 yards and three touchdowns. Howard flashed his potential toward the end of last season, rushing nine times for 115 yards and a touchdown in a 49-6 thrashing against Duke.
WHO’S BACKING THEM UP
- Markenzy Pierre: Pierre, now a redshirt junior, has mostly appeared as a special teams player in his first three seasons, though he has logged 38 carries. In 2019, he served as the team’s kickoff returner, and also saw action as a punt returner.
- Jawhar Jordan: Jordan took his redshirt season, appearing in four games before being shut down the rest of the year. In those four games, he rushed 15 times for 105 yards and a touchdown, and added 223 all-purpose yards in a loss against Louisville. He’s got the talent to steal carries away from Howard as the team’s backup running back.
- Garrison Johnson: The No. 84 running back in the class of 2019, according to ESPN, took his redshirt season last year. At 5-foot-10, 242 pounds, the Texas native has the chance to be a physical, bruising, short yardage back in 2020.
- Cooper Lutz: Lutz was one of Pennsylvania’s top running backs in the class of 2018. He rushed for 3,141 yards and 55 touchdowns during his high school career, and he will return to that position after two years as an inside receiver. He didn’t appear in any games in 2019 after redshirting in 2018.
Syracuse added a pair of three-star running backs in the class of 2020. Maryland products Sean Tucker and Marlowe Wax will likely both redshirt in 2020, but they could make cameo appearances with the ability to play four games while still preserving their redshirts. Tucker at 5-10, 195 is the speedster, while Wax at 6-0, 225 projects as a bruiser.
As we spoke about last week, Syracuse’s offensive line figures to be more stable and productive in 2020, which will be good news for SU’s backfield.
Though Neal is gone, the Orange shouldn’t skip much of a beat, with three capable backs that can rush for 100 yards in any given game. While Jordan and Adams are certainly the front runners to absorb most of the carries, Jordan has drawn rave reviews for his speed and could easily move his way up the depth chart as the season progresses.
The question is if new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will use his backs any differently than in season’s past. If history is any indicator, the answer is probably not. Syracuse will still likely employ similar downhill, straight forward running between the tackles, which in theory will help open up the passing game.
Keep in mind that Gilbert served as Baber’s OC when the two were at Eastern Illinois in 2012. Gilbert was named FootballScoop.com’s FCS Coordinator of the Year after super charging Eastern Illinois’ offense, which included a rushing game that was ranked 20th in FCS play.
Which back ends up seeing the field most has always been the back that not only can downfield rush, but also call out blocking schemes and also catch passes out of the backfield.
Though I ultimately see Adams as the primary back, I think Jordan carves out his role as a clear No. 2 rusher, with Howard returning to his short yardage usage in 2020.