A star was born last season in Syracuse, as Sean Tucker, who hinted at his potential in limited play as a freshman in 2020, exploded on the scene. The sophomore running back piled up nine 100-yard rushing games and a dozen touchdowns en route to setting the single-season rushing record for the Orange, piling up 1,496 yards on the campaign. Tucker burst onto the scene with 181 rushing yards in the opener at Ohio and rolled up a season-high 207 yards against Boston College.
After taking over the starting spot in the fourth game of the season, quarterback Garrett Shrader joined Tucker in forming an exceptional two-headed rushing attack. The Mississippi State transfer added 14 touchdowns and 791 yards on the ground, as well as 1,445 yards and nine scores through the air.
Unfortunately, SU offset this rushing success by being pretty punchless through through the air, finishing in the bottom ten out of 130 FBS schools in completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns per game. As a result, Syracuse tied for 91st among FBS competitors at 24.9 points per game and finished 99th in points scored per drive.
The Orange defense was solid, finishing 21st in yards allowed per game and 31st in yards per play. The unit finished 26th in passing yards allowed per game and 28th in rushing yards allowed per game, including ranking 16th in quarterback sacks per game.
SU did have one very big deficiency on the defensive side of the ball, forcing just seven turnovers all season, placing them ahead of only Arizona in all of FBS. This was in sharp contrast to the previous year’s effort when the defense tied for eighth in the country in forcing turnovers. This lack of big impact plays hindered the defense where it mattered most, and the unit finished 64th in points allowed in college football.
While the overall statistics for the defense were not out of this world, a couple members of the lineup were. Linebacker Mikel Jones earned first team All-ACC honors by finishing second in the conference with 110 tackles while cornerbacks Duce Chestnut (All-ACC third team, eight pass break-ups, three interceptions) and Garrett Williams (ten break-ups) finished third and fourth in the league in passes defended.
Unfortunately, those individual performances were not able to lift the team as a whole. The team suffered through a pair of three-game losing streaks in ACC play. The first streak came in October with losses at Florida State and to Wake Forest and Clemson, all coming by three points. The latter slide lowered the curtain on the campaign at 5-7 overall and 2-6 in conference action, forcing the Orange to miss out on bowl eligibility for the seventh time in eight years.
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Once again, head coach Dino Babers has re-tooled his coaching staff in an effort to reclaim some of the magic from when SU last made a bowl game in 2018.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck both join the program, having both worked together at Virginia and BYU before that. Veteran special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky also joins the program, as well.
And while the team lost many contributors, that revamped coaching staff gets to build on what Tucker, Shrader, Jones, Chestnut, and Williams and others accomplished last year. The question is if this mix will finally help convert the Orange back into a winning program.
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