Stock watch: Who stood out during Syracuse football’s loss to Middle Tennessee
Colin Davy | Staff Photographer
Syracuse football suffered its first loss of the 2017 season Saturday, when former SU head coach Scott Shafer and his defense from Middle Tennessee State beat the Orange, 30-23. Despite forcing three first-half turnovers, SU couldn’t capitalize on its scoring opportunities and allowed three late touchdowns to let its lead slip away.
Here’s a look at which players and positions stood out for Syracuse:
Chris Elmore, fullback
In an otherwise abysmal running game (more on that later), the true freshman fullback offered a glimpse of what his size brings to the offense. He said last week that he weighs 274 pounds. It showed. Elmore finished the game with 28 yards, most of which came after contact. He rushed for more yards than both starting running backs, junior Dontae Strickland and sophomore Moe Neal.
SU used Elmore in multiple formations. He lined up in the wing and as the lead man in a stack of himself, Ravian Pierce and usually Moe Neal that formed behind Dungey in the shotgun. His presence was especially noticeable in the red zone, so it will be worth monitoring if an expanded role comes his way moving forward.
Steve Ishmael, wide receiver
Ishmael and the rest of the receiving corps had some costly drops Saturday, even though the senior wideout was the one constant positive in Syracuse’s offense. He hauled in 14 passes to tie the Syracuse single-game record teammate Ervin Philips set last season. Through two games, Ishmael now has 26 catches for 250 yards.
Ishmael appears to be the new shoulder to lean on for quarterback Eric Dungey with Amba Etta-Tawo gone. Even if the touchdown numbers aren’t there — Ishmael caught just one score last season and does not have one in two games this year — his reliability will be a crucial crutch for an SU offense struggling right now.
Jonathan Thomas, linebacker
Thomas did not play last week because he violated a team rule but returned against MTSU to start at strong-side linebacker. The senior showed what why he’s quietly a key part of a linebacking unit that includes fellow seniors Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett. Thomas had to bump out for coverage in the slot and, for the most part, he kept pace with MTSU’s weapons, recording one pass defended and an interception that he nearly took to the house. He also recorded seven tackles, two of which were solo feats for a loss.
Place the blame wherever you choose — the offensive line, the running backs or the play calling — but the running game is not getting it done for Syracuse. As he did last week, junior quarterback Eric Dungey led the team in rushing yards with 53. No other player on the team reached 30. Elmore had the next highest total at 28. Primary halfback Dontae Strickland averaged 2.4 yards per carry on ten touches. His backup, Moe Neal, averaged 2.6 yards per carry on seven attempts.
A successful attack on the ground was supposed to be what opened up so much more for Dino Babers offense in its second year. With that appearing to be beyond the current roster’s abilities, SU’s offense is struggling to find another option besides short passes.
All three of MTSU’s second-half touchdowns came through the air. Two of them were for more than 25 yards. All three seemed to come with relative ease.
Richie James, who is on pace to set the FBS career reception record, scored the first one late in the third quarter on a crossing route over the middle. SU limited James to eight catches, but he was still able to do his damage. Syracuse corner Chris Frederick got burned on the worst of the touchdowns, when MTSU’s Ty Lee beat him down the right seam for a 48-yard touchdown. It gave the Blue Raiders their first lead since being up 2-0 in the first quarter. The final score made Juwan Dowels look foolish when he went low and Shane Tucker leapt over him and into the end zone.
Depth was the secondary’s narrative entering this season. Graduate transfers paired with talented youth had potential. It was not realized against MTSU’s Brent Stockstill, who threw for 269 yards.
Eric Dungey, quarterback
It would be fair to say you can’t fault Dungey when his running game is nonexistent and his receivers drop too many passes. But the fact remains that Dungey is the general of the SU offense that did not get the job done. The defense forced three turnovers and SU couldn’t take advantage. They settled for field goal attempts four times, one of which missed. Once the offense got to the red zone, it stalled. Dungey said after the game that they struggled with the disguises Middle Tennessee used on its blitz packages. And on one SU’s final chances to match MTSU late in the game, Dungey floated a deep pass too high that got intercepted. It was a game to forget for the leader of SU’s offense.
Published on September 10, 2017 at 6:04 pm