As if losing Terrel Hunt wasn’t bad enough, Syracuse University football fans also learned that the team will be without star hybrid Ervin Philips, at least for this weekend’s matchup against Wake Forest. The speedy, dynamic playmaker left the game at halftime against Rhode Island after catching two balls – both resulting in touchdowns – from quarterback Eric Dungey. With Philips out of commission this week, the opportunity now presents itself for one of the Orange’s young players to step up, and Dontae Strickland looks to be in prime position to take on that responsibility.
The 5-foot-11, 194 pound true freshman from New Jersey only got two touches in the season opening 47-0 win over URI, but he made the most of them – carrying twice for 42 yards and a touchdown. He showed the kind of explosiveness and athleticism that made him one of the most coveted running backs in the Garden State last season (there’s a reason Georgia came sniffing around late in the process), and with Philips sidelined Strickland could be in line to get even more touches.
Not having Philips will be a difficult hurdle to overcome, of course. He’s one of the most versatile and talented offensive weapons at Tim Lester’s disposal, and was pretty much tailor made for the express back. There’ll certainly be at least a bit of a drop off but it likely won’t be quite as precipitous as some might suppose. That’s the benefit of the staff’s continually improving recruiting, and the ability to stockpile better athletic talent.
Strickland seems like the most obvious choice but isn’t the only option, of course. Tyrone Perkins made a brief appearance late against the Rams, carrying once for a five yard gain. It’s conceivable that Kenterius Womack – who burned his redshirt last season so should be available from here on out – could see an increased role. And obviously Ben Lewis, the backup hybrid on the depth chart, is still around. But Lewis is a much different player than either Philips or Strickland, or even Perkins for that matter, and fulfills a different sort of role than those smaller, shiftier players.
Wake Forest presents a genuine challenge for the Orange, who beat the Deacs 30-7 on the road last season. Wake has a talented defense that’ll make things a lot more difficult for Strickland and whoever else fills in for Philips than Rhode Island did, and the team will need someone to step up in the role and make some plays in space.