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Syracuse Orange Secondary: Better Without Shamarko Thomas

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Mark Konezny – USATODAY Sports

Coming off their eight-win season in 2012, the Syracuse Orange have been forced to say goodbye to one of their most important defensive players: senior safety Shamarko Thomas. Thomas was a leader, a fearless player, a hard hitter, and a ferocious tackler for the Orange last season, and throughout his career. He had all the intangibles you could want in a football player and was the heart of the Syracuse defense. However, the Syracuse secondary will be even better without him in 2013.

Thomas was a fantastic strong safety for the Orange throughout his four years at Syracuse, but he was also undersized, too aggressive at times, and not always effective in pass coverage. The strong safety projected to replace him is junior Ritchy Desir, who is taller, more athletic, and will cover a lot more ground in the defensive backfield for the Orange. Syracuse has a similar player alongside Desir in sophomore free safety Durell Eskridge, who is 6’3’’ and showed flashes of great potential in a backup role last year. With Desir and Eskridge at safety, the Orange will be as big and athletic at the safety position as they’ve been in over a decade. They will be able to cover a lot of ground with their size and speed, and make plays that Thomas wasn’t capable of making for them.

The leadership and aggressiveness that will be missing without Thomas, Syracuse will be able to get from senior Jeremi Wilkes. Much like Thomas, Wilkes is undersized, but he has a wealth of experience and doesn’t shy away from making hits on bigger players. Wilkes will embrace a leadership during his senior season, especially with fellow Floridians Desir and Eskridge playing alongside him at safety.

The Syracuse secondary also looks strong in 2013 because the Orange will return all of their cornerbacks from a year ago. Seniors Keon Lyn and Ri’Shard Anderson and junior Brandon Reddish rotated at the two starting spots last year, and all three should be even better this year, as they compete with one another for playing time. Sophomores Julian Whigham and Jaston George will also have an opportunity to compete for playing time and contribute. The wildcard of the Syracuse secondary will be sophomore Wayne Morgan, a big-time recruit that could see time at cornerback, safety, or in Syracuse’s vaunted “Okie” package. With a full year in the program, Morgan could be in line for a breakout season and become a real difference maker in the Syracuse secondary, no matter what position he plays.

Players that love football and play the game with great passion the way Thomas did are rare. He will certainly be missed and the Syracuse defense won’t look the same without him in 2013. But everyone else from a young and talented secondary is back, so even without its senior leader from a year ago, the Syracuse secondary will be much improved in 2013 and should be one of the strengths of Orange defense.

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Duke-Syracuse Game Preview, Prediction

Starting the season outside of the Top 25, the Duke Blue Devils were playing with a chip on their shoulder. Now that they are 7-1 on the year, no one is overlooking the darkhorse favorites to dethrone Florida State for an ACC title. The Syracuse Orange started the season 2-0, but have since lost six of seven to lead to a 3-6 record. While they aren’t a threat for the conference title, the Orange can still play spoiler.

Senior quarterback Anthony Boone has been the spark that has gotten the Blue Devils going this season. Boone has passed for 1,628 yards, 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions while rushing for another 243 yards and four touchdowns. Jamison Crowder is clearly the team’s top receiving weapon, catching 49 passes for 636 yards and four touchdowns. Max McCaffrey and Issac Blakeney have been basically equal in the receiving department, both catching 26 passes for three scores apiece while McCaffrey has 261 yards and Blakeney has 259 yards. Freshman running back Shaun Wilson has been a main reason for the team’s run success, rushing for 528 yards and four touchdowns.

Syracuse had been led by a dual-threat quarterback of its own in Terrel Hunt who had 983 passing yards and a touchdowns as well as 292 yards and six rushing scores before his injury. He hasn’t returned yet, paving way for freshman quarterback AJ Long to get the nod as the starter. Long hasn’t been very impressive, however, passing for 727 yards and four touchdowns with six interceptions. Jarrod West doesn’t care who’s behind center as he has been effective either way, catching 40 passes for 610 yards. Steve Ishmael has been the second-best wide out on the team, catching 20 passes for 311 yards and three scores. Prince-Tyson Gulley has been solid this season in the run game, leading the team with 526 yards and a touchdown while also catches 20 passes out of the backfield for 107 yards.

Defensively, the Orange have been a bit above average this season, ranking 38th in total yards allowed as well as 43rd in points allowed per contest. In their three wins this season, Syracuse has given up an average of 12 points. Before last week, Duke had done a solid job of keeping opponents out of the end zone. On the year, the Blue Devils rank 13th in points against and a lowly 81st nationally in total yards allowed.

Duke will travel to Syracuse to take on the Orange at 12:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, Nov. 8. The game will be broadcasted on GamePlan/ESPN 3.

PREDICTION: Duke 23, Syracuse 21

Want to see the Blue Devils take on the Orange in week 11? Check out ScoreBig for tickets.

Connor Muldowney is a columnist for Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at

Duke will travel to Syracuse to take on the Orange in week 11. Who will come out on top?

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