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When Syracuse released its week 3 depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech, running back Sean Tucker’s name was not on it.
Stuck behind the Orange’s top two backs in Jawhar Jordan and Markenzy Pierre, Tucker wasn’t considered a main option in the offense’s original plans, even with the opt-outs of Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard. Tucker still hasn’t appeared on a depth chart this season in three games. But Syracuse head coach Dino Babers always suggested that there were players who could play their way into bigger roles as the season progressed.
He said in August that the guys seen in week 1 may be different from those who play later in the season. The lack of spring ball and truncated summer practices made deciding who would win position battles difficult.
When Jordan was banged up in Syracuse’s (1-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) 37-20 win against Georgia Tech (1-2, 1-1) in its home opener on Saturday, Tucker took over as the Orange’s lead back. With 24 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns, the 5-foot-10 running back from Owings Mills, Maryland established himself as Syracuse’s most effective back through three weeks of the season.
Tucker’s 38-yard run in the opening quarter, which included multiple broken tackles and a near downed knee, set off the Orange’s 37-point scoring outburst that was more than double SU’s point total from the first two games combined. As Tucker punched in the Orange’s second touchdown to end the first quarter, SU had found a potential answer to its early-season red zone woes, too.
His 112-yard performance makes him the first runner to eclipse 100 yards since Moe Neal in 2019 and the first freshman to surpass the century mark since 2015. SU Athletics did not make Tucker was available to the media postgame.
“They have to get more than what’s on the play,” Babers said of his running backs. “Whatever your style is, you have to get more than what the play is blocked, and that’s what Sean Tucker did tonight.”
Facing a 3rd-and-2 from the Yellow Jackets’ 38-yard-line, SU was in a similar position as it had been the first three weeks. In opponent territory, many of the Orange’s drives had broken down without points. The Orange called a run up the middle, and a crease opened up between center Carlos Vettorello and right guard Darius Tisdale.
Tucker needed to be quick, though, because the hole was collapsing quickly from edge pressure of three GT defenders. Tucker hit the hole, picked up the first and bounced to his left, where he appeared to be tackled down.
But his knee never hit the ground. Tucker rolled over the defender trying to tackle him, sprung back to his feet and split two defenders, breaking another tackle before bursting into the end zone. The largest SU run play of the season gave Syracuse a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Tucker then butted helmets with teammate Nykeim Johnson, the first to greet him in the endzone for his first career touchdown.
Babers suggested last week that there were holes opened up in the run game, but that the running backs sometimes missed them. Jordan and Pierre both struggled to generate much of anything at the second level and in the open field. They had combined for 10 total open field yards in the first two defeats to North Carolina and Pittsburgh, while Tucker managed 40 in the Orange’s win on Saturday.
Georgia Tech also was not prepared to see Tucker, who only had four career carries entering Saturday. He provided a spark for the SU offense in the third quarter of the week 2 loss to Pitt, carrying the ball four times for 24 yards. But he had no recognition on the depth chart and even less game film for the Yellow Jackets to prepare.
By the time they could adjust, Tucker scored his second touchdown of the game near the end of the first quarter, powering his way off the right tackle and into the end zone.
“That’s always an issue, being able to play against somebody and they don’t have much film,” Georgia Tech defensive back Zamari Walton said. “It’s just kind of having to adjust to things, it was kind of hard. We tried to adjust.”
The Orange’s offense has always been predicated on quick throws and effective early down runs to keep the team ahead of the chains. From Dontae Strickland to Neal, SU’s most effective offenses under Babers have always had reliable running backs. The departures of Adams and Howard left the backfield as a major question mark.
Tucker then carried the ball on four consecutive plays just before halftime, grabbing a critical first down that enabled Syracuse to run out the clock pinned deep in its own territory.
In the second half, the Orange struggled to establish offensive rhythm and run the ball. When Pierre was brought in for the 4th and goal run in the fourth quarter, he was stuffed on the line, and the Orange turned the ball over on downs.
“Sean just took it over, we look at yards after first contact, first touch,” Babers said. “If you get touched on the 20 and tackled on the 20, that’s not what we’re looking for.”
Tucker’s ability to get those extra yards helped the SU offense post 37 points, a season-high.
And when the Orange take the field again in two Saturdays against Duke, Tucker just might have earned himself a spot on Syracuse’s depth chart, for the first time.
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