Syracuse offensive coordinator George McDonald spent the past two seasons as the receivers coach at Miami with Al Golden. In working with the Canes, McDonald had the opportunity to watch the ACC’s 2012 Rookie of the Year, running back Duke Johnson, at practice every day, along with former running back Mike James.
Look out, ACC: McDonald says Syracuse has a deep group of running backs with talent comparable to the Canes.
Of all of the position groups he saw this spring, McDonald said the running backs were the biggest surprise to him.
“That’s part of the strength of our team,” McDonald said. “...There’s the young kids, George Morris and Devante [McFarlane], they’re really, really good. I think they could play at a lot of different places in the ACC. That’s one position where Coach [Doug] Marrone and the previous staff -- they did a great job on the offensive line and a lot of different places -- but that depth at running back, I was surprised. I knew Jerome [Smith] and [Prince-Tyson] Gulley were good, but then you get into the spring and see the two freshmen who were redshirted, and you’re like, ‘OK, these guys are good.’ At Miami we had Mike James and Duke, but we didn’t have the depth, four guys who can all step in. That’s a good problem to have.”
Smith highlights the group, as he started 12 games last year and finished the season with 1,341 yards and four touchdowns on 264 carries. Gulley started three games last year and was named the MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl after he racked up a career-high 213 rushing yards, and had two touchdowns on 24 carries, and also added five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown against West Virginia.
The running backs should help ease the burden of a first-year starting quarterback, not to mention a first-year offensive coordinator at the BCS level. McDonald has coached receivers for the past eight years, and spent one year as a coordinator while at Western Michigan (2005-2006) -- also the last time he was on the sideline with first-year Syracuse coach Scott Shafer.
The Dome is a far cry from sunny South Florida, but for McDonald, taking over the offense for his friend was worth the move.
“Coach Golden was awesome to me,” McDonald said. “I’m so happy to be here with coach Shafer. He’s been one of my mentors. He’s been awesome to give me this opportunity to lead this program into the ACC on offense. Every day we wake up chasing our dreams, and I’m one of those fortunate people who actually gets to wake up and live the dream. I’m really excited to be here.”