When Syracuse opens spring practice Sunday, there will be an emphasis on getting back to its roots on offense.
That would be putting a priority on establishing the run.
Last season, the Orange were not nearly as effective on the ground. There were myriad reasons for that – the offensive line was never a cohesive unit as it dealt with one injury after another; injuries to the quarterbacks allowed defenses to load the box and key on the run; and offensive coordinator George McDonald favored more of a spread, high-tempo offense.
The shift in philosophy back to a pro-style, multiple-set under Tim Lester provides an opportunity to establish a more physical, powerful run game.
Last season, Syracuse ranked 12th in the ACC in rushing. Prince-Tyson Gulley led the team with 614 yards, the fewest yards by the team’s leading rusher since 2007. Between 2008-13, Syracuse’s top rusher had at least 900 yards. In its last two bowl appearances, Syracuse averaged 190.9 yards rushing per game.
So it is easy to see why Syracuse wants to be able to run the ball, and run it well.
While it is true that Lester was promoted to offensive coordinator last October, the offensive staff was caught in the awkward position of trying to run the scheme in place while also making adjustments to the style Lester preferred. The Orange could not radically shift gears midstream.
Once the offseason hit, players received a new playbook and will start to resemble the unit Lester wants to run once spring rolls around. To that end, Syracuse loses Gulley from the backfield but returns George Morris II, Devante McFarlane and Ervin Philips. Three freshman running backs signed this month.
What appeals to Shafer about the group is the way they can be used in different ways.
“Erv is a kid who can play right behind the quarterback and run all of our run game, but he also can move out into space and create mismatch problems with linebackers,” Shafer said. “A guy like Ashton Broyld is another kid we don’t have to just play outside. He can come inside, he can run the ball and he can catch the ball off linebackers.
“I feel good about the three running backs we recruited in this class coming in that are dynamic enough to play both behind the quarterback or offset into a slot family and once again match up against those linebackers.”
Terrel Hunt opens spring as the starting quarterback, so he will provide some help to the ground game as well. Though he only played in five games before getting hurt, Hunt finished third on the team with 292 yards rushing and led the team with six rushing touchdowns. That accounted for half of the team’s 12 total rushing touchdowns – a far cry from the 25 rushing TDs the team scored in 2013.