The Importance of Sean Tucker
Syracuse, NY — Sean Tucker may have been buried near the bottom of the depth chart to start the year, but the true freshman has rapidly become one of the most consistent and essential pieces of the Syracuse Orange offense.
Tucker's potential relevance skyrocketed when top running backs Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard opted out of the 2020 season. Still, Tucker remained an afterthought behind more experienced stand-ins Jawhar Jordan and Markenzy Pierre.
Redshirt freshman Jawhar Jordan got the starting nod through the first three weeks, but struggled to find running room against North Carolina and Pitt. Jordan went down with a lower-body injury during the team's 37-20 win over Georgia Tech and hasn't seen the field since.
That series of circumstances catapulted Tucker into a lead role that, under ideal conditions, never would've happened. Beyond all reasonable expectations, Tucker seized his opportunity and hasn't looked back.
"My hat goes off to that young man," head coach Dino Babers remarked of his young running back. "He has had an eye-opening first half of the season."
Since stealing the show against the Yellow Jackets, Tucker has cemented his case for being the Orange's lead back by compiling 362-yards and three touchdowns in four games. Tucker boosted his 5.1-yards per carry average in a strong first-half showing against the tenth-ranked Clemson defense.
Tucker scooted for 63-yards and a touchdown in just ten attempts at Death Valley before having his ankle rolled-up on late in the second quarter. The awkward tackle sidelined the Orange's shot of vitamin-B for the rest of the game. Babers had no news of Tucker's condition when he met with the media Monday morning, but expects word to come soon.
"I do not have an update yet," Babers said. "It's still Monday. That normally happens later on in the afternoon. I won't have that information until later today."
Tucker's departure loomed large as the Orange offense never looked the same without him, ultimately falling to the Tigers 47-21. The impact of Tucker's absence was most evident during Syracuse's most pivotal drive of the game.
With less than six minutes remaining in the third quarter, 1-4 Syracuse trailed No. 1 Clemson by a mere six points. Faced with a fourth and inches at his 41-yard line and with sophomore Cooper Lutz replacing the injured Tucker at tailback, Babers elected to punt rather than go for it. Special-teamers downed Nolan Cooney's punt at the Clemson three-yard line, but the Syracuse offense wouldn't get that close to Clemson territory again until the game was already out of reach.
Babers spent the majority of his postgame press conference defending his decision to punt.
"If we go for it on the minus forty-one and we don't get it, and they score in two plays, what question would you be asking right now?
"Here's the point," Babers said, continuing to make his case. "Whether I do or I don't, there's going to be a story written, OK? But the way I looked at it is this: the minus forty-one, our defense has been playing well. If we can get a good punt down here, and maybe the guy throws us another interception to Garrett Williams for a touchdown, instead of putting the defense that's been playing well in a backed-up situation.
"So if I told you beforehand that we're going to punt the ball, it was going to be on the three, OK? Or, we could not punt the ball and run it on fourth down, and we don't know what's going to happen; what would you choose?"
Cooney's stellar punt validated Babers' decision, but only for the moment. Without Tucker present to legitimize a serious run threat, QB Rex Culpepper and the rest of the offense suffered the rest of the way. I don't think it's unreasonable to question whether Babers would have rolled the dice on fourth down if he had Tucker in the game, especially considering how highly he thinks of him.
"I think the biggest thing with running backs, regardless of their style, whether it's Jim Brown, the late Walter Payton, all the greats...the first guy doesn't bring them down," Babers said, comparing Tucker to legends.
"That is what Sean has. The first guy rarely brings him down. And good backs make yards after first touch or yards after contact. He has a lot of that.
"When you're rolling up the YAC, it normally means that you're somebody that you can turn around and hand the football to a large amount of times and get a lot of production from."
Babers isn't the only one who wants to see more carries for Tucker in big-time moments. If he's cleared to play, his next opportunity will come back at the Carrier Dome on Halloween against Wake Forest (3-2). The Demon Deacons have allowed over 1000 rushing-yards in five games, yielding nine rushing scores in the process.