Syracuse beat Albany 62-24 on Saturday. Here are my top takeaways from the win.
1. Offense Should Run Through Sean Tucker
Sean Tucker is special. He has had a tremendous start to the season, making his 13 carries against Rutgers even more baffling. He should touch the ball at least 20-25 times each game. In fact, given that he is Syracuse's most dynamic offensive weapon, he should be the focal point of the offense. It means a change in identity from what Syracuse has been in the past, but it makes the most sense for this team. The offensive line is a good run blocking line. The offense moves better when feeding Tucker and having the air attack off of that. If I was Syracuse, that's what I would do for the rest of the season. Become a running based offensive team.
2. Oh Those Penalties
16 penalties for 164 yards. There is no way to justify that. Simply inexcusable. Penalties have been a problem over the last few seasons, but not to that extent. That absolutely has to get cleaned up against Liberty. Syracuse can still dominate a team like Albany with all of those infractions. However, beating a team like Liberty, not so much.
3. Pressuring the Quarterback
Perhaps the only defensive criticism from the week one win at Ohio was the lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback. That changed in week two, as Syracuse sacked Rutgers four times. The Orange doubled that against Albany with eight, one shy of the team single game record. The defense line and athletic linebackers have done a great job getting after the quarterback the last two games. Syracuse will need more of that against Liberty, but it is an encouraging moving forward.
4. No Taj, No Problem
Taj Harris missed the game due to injury. Despite that, Syracuse threw for over 330 yards and two touchdowns. Nine different players caught passes. Tucker led the Orange in receiving yards. Courtney Jackson and Devaughn Cooper each had three catches. Damien Alford only had one, but it was a 73 yard touchdown, the first of his career. Anthony Queeley had a 70+ yard touchdown called back because of a penalty. It was good experience for the quarterbacks to look to other options and for those other receivers to get live game reps.
5. The Quarterback Situation
Neither DeVito nor Garrett Shrader was spectacular against Albany. Both were solid, both made mistakes including an interception from each. Shrader did make more plays on the ground with two rushing touchdowns. So who is the best option moving forward? DeVito has outplayed Shrader to this point in the season in games. But could Shrader offer more upside? It depends on whether or not you think DeVito is what he is or he is better than the last two years. If you have seen enough from Shrader to warrant giving him the keys to the car. Whichever way the coaching staff is leaning, the decision needs to end the two quarterback system. Pick one and let him be the guy for the entire Liberty game barring injury.
Syracuse's run defense has been really, really good through three weeks. Against Albany, the Great Danes had just seven yards on 32 carries for 0.2 yards per attempt. Another strong outing. This week, however, is a different test. Malik Willis, Liberty's star quarterback, has 225 rushing yards and four touchdowns through three games. The opposition was Campbell, Troy and Old Dominion. Syracuse will be the best defense he faces. But the threat is real. Willis is one of the better dual threat quarterbacks Syracuse will face this season. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.