For the past few years, I’ve reserved this spot for my annual Orange Thanksgiving column. We look at what Syracuse fans have to be thankful for while also calling out the turkeys in the Orange sports world.
But as with everything else in life, 2020 has been different.
If 2020 was a day of the week, is there any doubt it would be Monday?
So while we should be thankful that we at least have college football to watch, I think we can safely say this whole season, from the Orange perspective, has been one big turkey.
Why? Well, besides the losses, this season’s Orange Titanic can be mostly explained with one word.
And no, this isn’t to sound like the Boo Hoo Syracuse Crew making excuses.
I mean, there’s a huge difference between having your season submarined by multiple injuries to so many key players and, say, being BC fans lamenting back-to-back ACC title game losses despite having Matt Ryan at quarterback.
You won’t find any “it’s not fair that we can’t get good recruits because of our – angles nose high in air – superior academic standards. Boo hoo, boo hoo!”
How many teams can survive, after having Spring football canceled, a spate of 15-20 injuries? Teams like Clemson and Ohio State probably can.
A team like Syracuse? Nope.
And especially when some of those injuries have been season-enders to the starting QB, the one running back who has filthy, elite speed, and your two best defensive players, both of whom will probably hear their names called in next year’s NFL Draft.
Well, your goose, I mean, turkey, is probably cooked.
Here’s a look at how injuries have caused this turkey of a season.
Arguably THE most important position in any sport finds Syracuse currently starting their third-string QB, a true freshman, JaCobian Morgan.
Tommy DeVito suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Backup Rex Culpepper started the next three games before suffering an injury in a loss to Wake Forest.
Morgan got his first taste of college football in the loss to Wake as he completed all seven pass attempts culminating in a three-yard scoring strike to Luke Benson.
Since then, Morgan has started games against Boston College and Louisville. He was pedestrian in a 16-13 loss to BC and abysmal in the loss to Louisville, a 30-0 shutout.
Morgan possesses a strong arm and some ability to scramble. If he can command more of the play book and move beyond a vanilla offense, Morgan might offer hope for the future.
The running back situation at Syracuse mirrors that of the quarterbacks.
Both Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard opted out of the season. That left Jawhar Jordan and Markenzy Pierre as the top two backs.
Jordan goes from 0 to 60 faster than a flying DeLorean while Pierre is a big, physical back. Then Jordan suffered a season-ending injury and Pierre did not show much with the carries he received.
That left Sean Tucker to fill the void. And the true freshman hasn’t disappointed.
The 5-foot-10, 202-pound Tucker has carried the ball 98 times for 507 yards, has scored three touchdowns, and has a 5.2 YPC average. He’s also caught five balls for 71 yards, an average of 14.2 YPC.
Tucker has the size to run through defenders and the speed to outrun them when he must. In what is certainly a lost year for the football team, Tucker is a serious bright spot and has cemented his status as RB1 on the depth chart.
The biggest issue with the offensive this year is the same as last year. The Offensive Line continues to struggle in pass protection and run blocking.
Syracuse returned four starters from last year: Airon Servais, Dakota Davis, Matthew Bergeron, and Carlos Vetterello. Guard Evan Adams was the only starter whose eligibility ran out. The Orange seemed to have a replacement for Adams in Florida transfer Chris Bleich. That is, if the NCAA granted his waiver for immediate eligibility.
But Davis started the season on the shelf and hasn’t seen game action until recently. And despite granting 90 percent of eligibility waivers in the offseason, the NCAA told Bleich to take a seat a mere two days before the opener at North Carolina. Whether he could’ve played or not this year is another issue as he is rumored to be recovering from offseason surgery.
Syracuse was forced to start Darius Tisdale at one guard spot while jack-of-all-trades Chris Elmore, who hadn’t played offensive line since arriving at Syracuse, suited up at the other guard spot. Elmore has played well but the line as a whole still has been a major problem in both the running and passing game.
The Orange secondary is arguably the strength of the team and the anchor of Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense.
Led by Andre Cisco and Trill Williams, the anticipation of the secondary heading into the season was to be fast, aggressive, and force turnovers. So far so good.
That is, until both Cisco and Williams suffered injuries.
Cisco suffered a season-ending injury during warmups against Georgia Tech. The junior has declared for the NFL Draft – which isn’t surprising given his level of play during his first two seasons.
And because lightning never strikes the same place twice, Williams hasn’t played since suffering an injury against Liberty. Like Cisco, Williams has also declared for the NFL Draft.
To complicate matters, Eric Coley hasn’t played since suffering an injury in the opener at North Carolina. And backup redshirt freshman Neil Nunn suffered – wait for it – a season ending injury.
So while SU’s secondary resembles a MASH unit, there are some positives.
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Start with Garrett Williams.
The redshirt freshman has been nothing short of sensational at cornerback. He recorded the first pick-six thrown by Trevor Lawrence in his Clemson career. And last Friday, Williams had the wherewithal to tip the ball to himself to complete the interception.
No one has had the impact on the secondary like Williams. But Ja’Had Carter and Rob Hanna, both true freshmen, have filled in well.
Carter is third on the team with 49 tackles, has broken up three passes, recovered a fumble, and picked off a pass. His interception was quite memorable as he lateraled the ball to Trill Williams, who took it to the house to ice the win against Georgia Tech.
Hanna is fourth on the team with 48 tackles despite playing in seven games. He also has an interception and a fumble recovery.
Linebacker has been one cupboard that Babers has had a hard time replenishing year after year.
That will not be a problem going forward given the youth of his linebacking corps. But they certainly do not play like youngsters. And that starts with Mikel Jones.
Jones came to Syracuse as a 4-star recruit. And his play on the field this year proves why he was so highly regarded by the recruiting services.
The sophomore leads the team with three interceptions, has forced two fumbles, and recovered two fumbles. Any time the defense has made a big play this season, Jones seems to always be involved.
Another sophomore making waves is Geoff Cantin-Arku. He’s second on the team with 52 tackles. The Canadian also has two sacks, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble, and he returned a fumble for a touchdown.
A couple of true freshmen in Stefon Thompson and Marlowe Wax have also impressed. Thompson has two sacks and a forced fumble in eight games while Wax has recorded a sack of his own while playing all nine games. The two have combined for 52 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss.
If one positive arises from this lost season, it is the opportunity to build depth.
Dino Babers has been reminding fans that to be consistently good takes ACC-caliber depth. And Syracuse has yet to, consistently, develop that depth.
Thanks to the progress made by so many of these young players, and by the NCAA for granting every player a free year of eligibility, Babers might finally discover the depth he needs to compete.
And then this column can get back to focusing on the real Orange sports turkeys. Looking at you, Georgetown!
On behalf of your friendly staff here at The Juice Online, we hope you all have a happy, and safe, Thanksgiving.