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Syracuse football is rejuvenated behind a run-first approach

State would do well not to let the Wake result linger.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Syracuse at Louisville Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No doubt Dave Doeren has sympathy for Dino Babers, what with the both of them going through a big disaster season well into their respective tenures. For Babers, 2020 was that disaster season—the Orange finished 1-10, with eight of their losses coming by double-figures.

It appeared that Babers’ time at Syracuse was as good as over, and maybe that’s still true. But Syracuse has re-made itself with a transfer quarterback and emergent star at running back, and Babers gets some credit for that, too. Syracuse enters the weekend at 5-5, and three of those losses were by a field goal. They have been a lot better, though at this point a bowl bid hinges on beating either NC State or Pittsburgh.

The transfer quarterback is Garrett Shrader, who left Mississippi State after last season. Schrader is not much of a passer but is a threat with his legs—the opposite of a prototypical Mike Leach quarterback, in other words. The star running back is Sean Tucker, whose 1,362 rushing yards rank third nationally. Duke’s Mataeo Durant is the only other ACC back over 1,000 yards at this point.

If you’d hopped into a time machine early in Dino Babers’ tenure and popped out now, you wouldn’t recognize Syracuse’s offense. The Orange have transitioned from a fast-twitch pass-first attack to a more deliberate, run-heavy operation. You have to play to your strengths, and Syracuse wisely determined that giving Tucker the ball a bunch of times would be a good idea.

Who is Sean Tucker, anyway, and where’d he come from? He was a three-star kid out of Maryland in the 2020 class who barely cracked the top 60 at his position. (Bit of a miss by the recruiting services here.) He stepped into the starting running back job as a true freshman last season and ran for more than 600 yards—a solid debut, especially on a bad team, and with a little more help from the scheme, he’s had a breakout sophomore campaign.

Shrader has been a good complement, and it’s not like the calculus was difficult: Syracuse struggled throwing the ball last year with dudes who were no threat whatsoever to run, so why not take a flyer on Shrader, who Syracuse knew could run but might not add anything to the passing game?

And Shrader has been rough through the air: he has seven touchdown passes on the season, he’s averaging 6.1 yards per attempt, and he has completed only 51.2 percent of his throws.

He’s also run for 713 yards—more than anyone on State’s roster—on an average of 5.1 per carry, with 13 touchdowns. He’s been over 100 yards rushing three times. Giving opposing defenses multiple guys to think about in the run game is what Syracuse is about, and while the results haven’t been spectacular, the Orange are markedly better on offense.

Syracuse has bumped its per-play output from 4.5 yards in 2020 to 5.9 this season. They can get boxed-in and they have had some bad days, but they are good enough to create some real headaches, and they have some legit star power. Tough not to worry about that.