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Syracuse’s top wide receiver, Taj Harris, did not travel with the team to Tallahassee, Florida, not appearing for the second time this season. Sunday, Harris announced his decision to leave SU and enter the transfer portal. Harris earned third team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors last season, ranked fifth in the league in receptions per game.
But after returning starting quarterback Tommy DeVito was benched in favor of Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader, the Orange’s offense moved more to the rushing attack. Against Liberty, Syracuse ran 53 times compared to just 16 passing attempts. Harris, who suffered a leg injury that forced him to miss the UAlbany game, only had two receptions in the passing game.
Head coach Dino Babers said in his weekly press conference Monday that he and Harris had conversations before and after the FSU game, and Harris decided the “best opportunity for him was to go into the transfer portal,” Babers said.
Here are three takeaways from Babers’ press conference:
Insights into Harris’ departure, other receivers forced to step up
Without Harris in the lineup Saturday, SU relied on Anthony Queeley, Damien Alford and Courtney Jackson in his place. Jackson led the trio with six catches for 57 yards, and Queeley had one receiving touchdown. Overall, Shrader threw for 150 yards and a touchdown in the 33-30 loss. When asked how Syracuse will go about replacing Harris, Babers expressed confidence in the unit without him.
“We scored 30 points vs. Florida State, at Florida State, and last time I checked he wasn’t there,” Babers said.
When asked if the Orange’s offense being too one-dimensional played a role in Harris’ departure, Babers said he is focused on creating his schemes around his available personnel, saying he will “operate with whoever’s operating the best.” Running back Sean Tucker is the ACC’s leader in rushing yards and again carried for over 100 yards on Saturday. Shrader took 16 attempts for 137 yards and three touchdowns, too.
In the weekly depth chart released on Monday, Queeley, Jackson and Sharod Johnson were listed as the three starting receivers, all of whom will attempt to fill the vacancy left by Harris.
“I think that we have a lot of wide receivers, and somebody will fill that void,” Babers said. “The more opportunities that those other guys are going to get, the more targets that they’re going to get.”
Missed penalty call proves costly
With Saturday’s game tied at 30-30 and the Seminoles driving, FSU quarterback Jordan Travis scrambled out of the pocket on third-and-7 from SU’s 38-yard line. Offensive lineman Darius Washington was blocking Marlowe Wax and appeared to hold him, blocking Wax’s path to Travis.
No penalty was called, and Travis was able to scramble for a first down, setting up the game-winning field goal with one second left in regulation. The win gave Florida State its first of the season — and sent Syracuse back to central New York with a 3-2 record.
Babers said he sent the play to the ACC office to be reviewed but hasn’t gotten a response yet from the conference. He felt Wax “got yanked” on the play but noted that there are potential holding calls on every play. Instead, Babers said, the holding matters if it affects the play, which in this case it did, he said.
Other notable absences against FSU
Freshman punter James Williams missed Saturday’s game for unknown reasons, leading Babers to start backup Ian Hawkins. After the game, Babers said that Hawkins played “good” for his first time on the field. He kicked six balls for 199 yards — an average of 33.2 yards per punt.
Babers declined to give reasoning for why Williams missed the contest. Over four games this season, Williams has averaged over 38 yards per punt, including a 60-yarder against Rutgers.
The Orange also played without Ja’Had Carter, tight end Luke Benson and offensive lineman Darius Tisdale for most of the game. Babers said he doesn’t expect any of them to miss the remainder of the season, but he wouldn’t say who would be available for the Wake Forest game. Tisdale had been splitting time at offensive guard with Dakota Davis, who returned from injury recently this season.
DeVito also didn’t make an appearance against FSU. It was the second straight game that the New Jersey native failed to take a snap in, after he started SU’s first three games. When asked if he had conversations with DeVito about transferring, Babers said he would not say. On Thursday, DeVito said on ESPN Radio Syracuse that he was “shocked” that he didn’t start against Liberty.
“I’m not talking to any of them, of my players about trying to keep them here. When I talk to them it’s a private conversation about how I can make them better,” Babers said. “The decision whether they leave here or not is not my decision to make. It’s their decision — they’re in control of their own careers.”
The post Dino Babers talks Taj Harris departure, missed call ahead of Wake Forest appeared first on The Daily Orange.