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Return of the King

Sean Tucker bursts down the field for the Syracuse offense.
Syracuse Athletics
Sean Tucker bursts down the field for the Syracuse offense.

SYRACUSE, NY | In 2021 the Syracuse football season was about one man: Sean Tucker. As a freshman, the halfback rumbled his way to 1496 rushing yards, a single season record at SU. In addition, Tucker also broke the SU record for consecutive 100+ yard rushing games with a streak of seven during the season.

Game 1: @ Ohio

Tucker didn’t wait around out of the gate in Athens. In a 29-9 SU win, he rushed 25 times for 181 yards and a touchdown. With Tommy DeVito still under center, the Syracuse plan of attack was clear, keep the ball on the ground.

Game 3: UAlbany

The Tucker hype train quieted down the week after the Ohio win when the entire SU offense sputtered against Rutgers. But in game three against in-state foe UAlbany, Tucker announced himself to the entire country. With just 16 touches, number 34 amassed 253 total yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s a ridiculous 15.8 yards per touch.

Sean Tucker darts past a group of Wake Forest defenders.
Syracuse Athletics
Sean Tucker darts past a group of Wake Forest defenders.

Game 4: Liberty

Tucker’s ridiculous performance against the Great Danes jumpstarted the halfback. The next week on a Friday night against Malik Willis and the Liberty Flames, Tucker rushed a season-high 32 times for 169 yards and a score. The Orange won on a last second field goal and after the game, head coach Dino Babers reiterated the obvious: Sean Tucker was the offense.

“When Sean Tucker is running the ball the way he is, our number one job is to find ways to make sure he gets the ball,” said Babers. “I think it’s pretty evident that we’ve got coaches and players and everyone working to try to find ways to make sure he doesn’t just disappear in a football game.”

Games 5-8

Despite the Orange losing three of their next four, Tucker kept the pace. Four games, four 100+ yard rushing performances. In game eight, on the road against Virginia Tech, Tucker became the first SU running back to eclipse 1000 yards in a season since 2012. The Syracuse program is defined by its running back play and at this point in the season, it was clear Tucker was preparing to etch his name into the record books in a major way.

Game 9: Boston College

Returning home from the Virginia Tech win, SU was 4-4 with bowl eligibility firmly in the realm of possibility. Tucker exploded against the Eagles to put the Orange in an even better position. 26 carries, 207 yards, and a touchdown. The 207-yard performance would wind up being Tucker’s season high and was highlighted by a 51-yard td run in the third quarter to break the game open. The win also marked Tucker’s seventh consecutive 100+ yard rushing performance, another SU single-season record.

Game 11: @ North Carolina State

Individually, all that was left for Tucker to accomplish was SU’s single-season rushing record set by Joe Morris back in 1979. That opportunity came on the road in Raleigh against NC State. Tucker came into the contest just 11 yards short and it took the halfback until the second quarter to break the mark. A 17 yard scamper to the right side did the trick and Tucker’s season was enshrined in the SU record books.

Tucker’s season would finish unceremoniously with a 13 rush, 29 yard performance in a 31-14 loss to Kenny Pickett and #17 Pittsburgh. However, the season as a whole was anything but unceremonious. Tucker finished with 1496 rushing yards, 14 total touchdowns, and was a Sporting News All-America nod away from being a unanimous All-American selection.

This season, expectations for number 34 are sky high. Tucker was named an AP Preseason All-American, took No. 15 on ESPN’s preseason top players in the country, and is a member of the Maxwell, Doak Walker, and Walter Camp Player of the Year watchlists. To top it all off, Syracuse athletics as launched its own Heisman campaign for the sophomore using #PL34SED as the official slogan. Game one against Louisville presents a challenge, the Cardinals were one of just three teams to hold Tucker under 100 yards a season ago.

Jacob Morris | @JacobMorrisTV