Football

Countdown to Camp: Establishing a run game key to Syracuse offensive success in 2017

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Syracuse lacked both depth and consistency on the ground, especially during its four-game losing streak to end the season.

Syracuse football’s training camp begins July 30. Every day leading up to camp, The Daily Orange’s football beat writers will take a look at some of the upcoming season’s most pressing storylines, players and position battles. Read more on the Countdown to Camp here.

Without question, an improved Syracuse offense in 2017 will hinge on the run game. With a potent passing attack, Syracuse knows a bolstered ground game could inch it closer to a winning record and bowl eligibility, both of which have eluded the program since 2013.

There’s “no doubt” Syracuse needs to invest in the run this season, head coach Dino Babers said on the ACC coaches teleconference in April. The idea is to alleviate the pressure on junior quarterback Eric Dungey and the receiving corps, and to give ACC defenses a look other than the run-and-gun, pass-heavy SU offense. In 2016, Syracuse finished 13th out of 14 ACC teams in rushing. The Orange averaged merely 3.2 yards per carry, collectively, and scored only 15 touchdowns on the ground.

“There’s no doubt that we need to be better in the run game,” Babers said. “You just can’t go back and throw the ball every single snap and be consistently good. We’re working hard on not only running the football but making sure we’re able to stop the run.

“To me, those are still the keys, minus turnovers and special teams, to winning football games.”

It starts with a stronger offensive line, which will undergo a facelift of sorts. In the backfield, junior Dontae Strickland averaged 3.5 yards per attempt on 162 carries a year ago, while Moe Neal took 68 handoffs for two touchdowns on an average of 5.3 yards per carry. As part of Babers’ plan, both will likely get more attempts to bump up their numbers. Yet Dungey may be Syracuse’s biggest threat via the run, as he scored six rushing touchdowns despite missing the last three games of the season due to injury.

Throughout 2016, when Syracuse finished 4-8, SU boasted the ACC’s second-best passing yards unit (321.3 yards per game, second to only national champion Clemson). But it lacked both depth and consistency on the ground, especially during its four-game, season-ending losing streak. SU averaged 119.6 rushing yards per game, second-worst in the conference to Virginia.

It won’t get easier this year against a brutal schedule which includes some of the country’s top rushing defenses: Boston College (seventh in 2016), Louisville (12th), Louisiana State (13th), Pittsburgh (16th) and Florida State (21st). Regardless, establishing a run game will be key to Syracuse’s offensive success this fall.

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