Syracuse needs Sean Tucker to regain his 2021 form

Oct 15, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange running back Sean Tucker (34) runs with the ball against the Clemson Tigers during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse football is in the midst of a revelatory season. Even with Sean Tucker returning and a talented defense, few could have seen this blistering start coming for the Orange. For the first time in 35 years, the Orange are 5-0. Garrett Shrader has taken a Josh Allen-type jump so far this season, seeing his completion percentage jump 19 points. He already surpassed his total passing touchdowns from a year ago in half as many attempts. His passer rating has risen from 113.7 to 176.2 and his yards per attempt is up from 6.2 to 9.6. That type of development is rare.

However, his glow up has seemingly come at the expense of Syracuse’s workhorse running back, Sean Tucker. The preseason Heisman candidate has struggled to recapture his impeccable 2021 form. His numbers this season look a whole lot better after tearing up Wagner, but I might have actually been able to pick up positive yardage running against that defense. Prior to that game, Tucker had 314 yards on 87 carries and two touchdowns. That’s an average of 3.6 yards per attempt, well below his average of 6.1 yards from a year ago. Add a pair of fumbles, one lost, and you can see how this would fall well short of expectations for the junior running back.

Needless to say, Tucker does not look like the same player. At least, not yet. The offensive line has not done him many favors. There is no question the unit has not been as dominant in the run game this season. Losing Chris Elmore, the team’s do-it-all fullback, did not help matters either. On the bright side, Tucker has upped his production as a receiver. He already has 19 receptions this season, just one shy of his 2021 season total.

I know I am being harsh on Tucker. That’s what happens when there are high expectations. However, you could argue this is a good thing for Syracuse. The Orange are undefeated thus far without their top offensive player really finding his stride.

SU should hope that is a sign of things to come, because they are going to need the Tucker of 2021 to return in order to sustain this hot start. Tucker has already had his “get right” game against Wagner, topping 200 yards and punching in three touchdowns.

Hopefully, this is a sign of the run game turning the corner. A week off will give the offensive line some time to gel. This is the team’s first season in a new offensive scheme after all. Robert Anae’s Virginia teams were never super strong running the ball to begin with, but this team’s strength a year ago was unquestionably on the ground.

Looking ahead to the rest of the Orange’s schedule, the run game is going to be crucial. The next two games in particular are going to be really tough tests for Tucker and the offensive line. NC State has a top 15 run defense so far this season. After that is Clemson, who ranks second in yards per game allowed on the ground in 2022.

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After that, things ease up a bit. None of Syracuse’s final five opponents currently rank in the top 50 nationally when it comes to run defense. Florida State and Boston College are both allowing over 150 yards per game on the ground. The Orange as a team has been successful running the ball so far, but once again the Wagner game greatly inflated the team’s stats. Take that game out of the equation and SU has been much more middle of the pack.

If Syracuse is going to stay in the Top 25 and continue to push for another 2018 type season, which ended with double-digit wins and a Camping World Bowl victory, it is going to need more from Sean Tucker. He is a Heisman-caliber player who has yet to play his best football this season. Any hopes of them unseating NC State or Clemson atop the ACC this season ride on him being able to step up and take some pressure off Shrader and the defense. Only time will tell, but I think the second half breakout is on the horizon.

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About Chris McGlynn 79 Articles
Chris hails from Westfield, NJ, and is a recent graduate from Syracuse University. He spent his college years playing for the Syracuse Ultimate frisbee team, working at WAER and covering the Orange for the Juice.