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|Posted on February 21, 2018 at 9:10 PM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
The Syracuse Orange began their match-up with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)'s third-best team by in-conference record, the North Carolina Tar Heels, by turning the ball over after winning the tip.
That turnover led to an immediate field goal by junior forward Luke Maye to give North Carolina the first lead of the game. Syracuse junior point guard Frank Howard would score the team's first field goal of the game on their second possession to place the Orange ahead for the first time in the game, at 3-2, before graduate guard Cameron Johnson would answer right back to take the lead and place it in the hands of the Tar Heels, at 4-3.
Syracuse sophomore shooting guard Tyus Battle got out in transition to receive the pass and sped off, knowing that the Orange needed a boost and he gave it to them with a slam that made it an 11-7 deficit for the Orange.
Freshman forward Sterling Manley had an immediate response, however, with a layup that placed the Tar Heels ahead of the Orange, 13-7.
Syracuse would head to the rim after beginning the game 2-for-13, making three straight shots at the bucket, the first by true freshman forward Marek Dolezaj and the following two by Battle to bring their deficit to six, 19-13.
Junior point guard Frank Howard would give the Orange four straight possessions with a field goal when he connected from long range to bring the score to 21-16, as the Orange edged closer.
Battle would grab two at the charity stripe to follow, bringing Syracuse within one possession, down 21-18.
At that moment and at 23-20, the Orange were looking to tie it up but the Tar Heels had other plans, managing to connect on field goals at the most opportune times to keep the Orange at bay, with Maye and then senior guard Joel Berry II making shots that took the Orange away from a one-possession game.
North Carolina was like the person in an argument that always wants to have the last word: Dolezaj hit a jumper by the free-throw line and Maye answered with one of his own. Then, Brissett made a shot from beyond the arc and Berry came down the court and did the same thing, all leading to North Carolina achieving an eight-point advantage, 33-25, with 3:16 before halftime.
Out of a break in the action, Theo Pinson cashed in on a check sent from long range, giving the Tar Heels a double-digit lead, 36-25, and elevating North Carolina to a 50% performance from three-point range, at 5-for-10.
But right before the half, Syracuse received a little hint of momentum when Brissett took an inbounds pass, dribbled once, and launched a three to beat the halftime buzzer, getting the deficit under double-digits for the Orange at the break, down 41-32.
Howard attained the next two buckets for the Orange, hitting a three before the shot clock expired and following with a layup to advance the Orange to a five-point deficit, 45-40.
Less than four minutes into the second half, Howard had already outdone his point total of the entire first half, with seven points at the 16:33 mark after accumulating six points over the length of the first half.
Brissett would make two free throws to close the gap to three for Syracuse, behind 49-46, and Battle would do it again on a layup that made it 51-48, but North Carolina would do what they did all game, respond.
With 7:55 to play, the Orange were behind by seven, 66-59, after Battle scored six straight points.
With just under four minutes to go, Howard and Battle combined for another string of six straight points, with Howard making both free throws, followed by Battle achieving back-to-back field goals to tie the game at 74 apiece at the 3:07 mark.
With 1:42 to play, junior center Paschal Chukwu turned the ball over after grabbing a key offensive rebound and Berry finished his steal with a layup at the other end to give the advantage back to North Carolina, 76-74, with 1:39 remaining.
Howard elevated for a three that would give the Orange their first lead since 3-2, but it is too long and Berry, instead, would make two free throws at the other end to go ahead 78-74.
Syracuse would get the ball back, get blocked, and miss the following jumper, and North Carolina would run out the final 2.9 seconds for the win.
Despite tying the game at 74 late, the Orange would never hold the lead for the final 38 minutes and 51 seconds.
Battle (26) and Howard (23) combined to score 49 of Syracuse's 74 points, but the comeback never came completely back for Syracuse.
On 16 separate occasions, the Tar Heels would score immediately after the Orange put points on the board, keeping distance between themselves and their adversary no matter how much pressure the Orange put on them in attempts to come back.
That was the X-Factor in the game: North Carolina's ability to face the threat head on and respond efficiently time and time again.
Pinson and Berry would combine to score more than half of the Tar Heels' points, with the duo amounting 41 of the 78 points scored, Pinson finishing with 23 and Berry with 18.
With the outcome, the Orange now have double-digit losses at 18-10 overall and are under .500 again, now at 7-8.
The Tar Heels look to remain in the conference's top three, elevating to 22-7 overall and 11-5 in the ACC.
|Posted on February 11, 2018 at 3:15 PM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
The Syracuse Orange men's basketball team came into their second match-up of the season with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons with potentially their least amount of depth of the 2017-18 campaign.
Syracuse has already lost true freshman point guard Howard Washington, Jr., for the season after sustaining an injury in practice to his right leg.
Redshirt-freshman forward Matthew Moyer injured his foot versus the Boston College Eagles and was able to come back recently but would not be available for this contest.
True freshman center Bourama Sidibe has been going back and forth between active and inactive status from tendonitis that has hampered his game since the beginning of the season.
This left the Orange with its starting five of junior point guard Frank Howard, shooting guard Tyus Battle, true freshmen forwards Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj, and junior center Paschal Chukwu.
With teams inside the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) being able to reach to their bench for help this season, Syracuse, on the other hand, has had to rely heavily on Howard, Battle, and Brissett for offense, and Dolezaj, their best offensive opportunity off the bench, had to move to the starting lineup due to aforementioned injuries.
Early on in this game, Battle scored Syracuse's first seven points, starting off 3-for-3 from the field.
Brissett would score the next four for the Orange, making two free throws and a jumper to get the Orange ahead 11-8.
But the maybe yes, maybe no status of Sidibe swung in favor of Syracuse, with the young center coming in at the 11:44 mark of the first half and scoring about a minute into his time on the court, on a layup that gave Syracuse a 13-8 lead.
Back-to-back threes by the Orange from Howard and then Battle provided the Orange with a 22-13 advantage with 5:32 left before the break. Those came after Syracuse and Wake Forest combined to begin the game 1-for-11 from beyond the arc, Syracuse 1-for-4 and Wake Forest 0-for-7.
Howard would let it fly inside three minutes, looking for Chukwu for an alley-oop and Chukwu obliged, slamming it home for a 28-18 Orange advantage.
Syracuse would go into the break ahead 31-21 after Wake Forest junior guard Bryant Crawford connected from long range, making the team's first three-pointer in 10 tries with two seconds left on the game clock. Battle (10) and Brissett (9) went into the locker room having scored 19 of the team's 31 first-half points.
The Demon Deacons held the lead twice in the first half, at 2-0 off of a jumper by freshman guard Chaundee Brown and then at 8-7 when junior center Doral Moore went 2-for-2 at the charity stripe, but would trail for the remaining 14:33 of the first half.
Crawford would begin the second half the same way he ended the first half, with a long distance connection, bringing the game to 31-24 Syracuse. His back-to-back makes gave Wake Forest a 2-for-2 performance after starting the contest 0-for-9.
Battle would have a three of his own inside 14 minutes to play in the game, when his crossover gave him an opening that he capitalized on while getting fouled. His four-point play elevated the Orange to a 44-32 advantage.
A steal and dunk to follow by Battle meant that he had scored eight straight points for the team, moving Syracuse to a 46-34 lead.
But the Demon Deacons would not go away.
After beginning the game making 0% of their three-point attempts (0-for-9), Wake Forest went 9-for-11, elevating dramatically from 0% to 81.8% from long range. A four-point play by senior guard Mitchell Wilbekin shrunk the Syracuse lead to six, 61-55, after Syracuse had been up by as many as 14 in the game.
A dunk by Sidibe gave the Orange a 10-point advantage, 65-55, but the Demon Deacons followed with an 8-0 run to bring the Orange lead down to two, 65-63, with a little over four minutes to go.
With Syracuse ahead 68-63 after Battle's 29th and 30th points of the game, Howard would step to the line twice. He would see all four of his late-game free-throw attempts fall outside of the cylinder, while Moore would dunk it home on the other end for Wake Forest.
At 49.8 seconds to play, the Demon Deacons were down by a mere four points, 72-68, after yet another three, going 10-for-12 at the time after beginning the game 0-for-9.
Redshirt-junior guard Keyshawn Woods would make a miraculous shot with 27.4 seconds to play to bring Wake Forest within four, 74-70.
Then Battle would halt any further surge by the Demon Deacons when he went 2-for-2 from the line and followed by stealing the ball away from his adversary after a block by Chukwu, slamming the ball into the cylinder to finish with 34 points and a 78-70 win for the Orange.
As a result, Syracuse elevates to 17-8 overall and is back even in the ACC, now at 6-6.
The win also avenges an earlier head-to-head loss on the road for the Orange versus the Demon Deacons, who are now 9-16 overall and 2-11 in the ACC.
Crawford led all Demon Deacons with 24 points, while Battle led all players with 34.
Syracuse got a mere four points off of their bench from Sidibe, while Wake Forest attained 25 from their bench, but Battle was simply too much and the Orange did enough to roll upward in the standings, holding onto the advantage for the entire second half and for the final 34 minutes and 33 seconds of the game.
|Posted on February 5, 2018 at 10:25 PM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
It is fitting that the Orange men's basketball team hails from Syracuse, New York, because their play this season has paralleled the weather.
This winter, the city of Syracuse has dealt with having 50-degree weather one day and a temperature of 12 degrees the next.
The ups and downs of the seemingly ever-changing weather in Syracuse has paralleled exactly how this season has gone for the Orange, with the team defeating the Georgetown Hoyas in overtime on the road, winning against the UConn Huskies on neutral grounds inside Madison Square Garden, and out-lasting the likes of the Maryland Terrapins at home in the Carrier Dome, but also having lost to the St. Bonaventure Bonnies at home and going on a four-game losing streak inside the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), including losses to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, all of whom have struggled in ACC play this season.
So after a loss to the Virginia Cavaliers where the Orange scored 44 points in 40 minutes, once again, the on-lookers were left wondering what team would show up at the KFC Yum Center to face former Big East rival, the Louisville Cardinals, just two days later.
Louisville would begin the game with the advantage, when sophomore forward V.J. King connected on a deep shot to go ahead 3-0, but Syracuse junior point guard Frank Howard answered right back with his own three to tie the game.
Then, the Cardinals would hold the advantage for almost a full five minutes to follow before the Orange tied the game again, this time at 15-15 off of an old-fashioned three-point play by sophomore shooting guard Tyus Battle. Two free throws right after by Battle would give Syracuse their first lead of the game, 17-15, with 11:52 remaining before halftime.
There would be three ties from there in less than three minutes before the Orange took the advantage at the 8:33 mark and never let go for the rest of the first half, gaining the lead at 22-21 when true freshman forward Oshae Brissett went 2-for-2 from the charity stripe, and extending out to as much as a 10-point lead, at 39-29.
A last-second heave by freshman guard Darius Perry beat the halftime buzzer from just inside of half court to get the deficit to six for the Cardinals, with the Orange up 39-33 heading into the locker room.
In the second half, despite a push offensively by Louisville, Syracuse never rescinded the lead, holding onto the scoring advantage for the final 28 minutes and 33 seconds of the contest.
But there was a trying time for the Orange at the 16:56 mark of the second half, Brissett came out after picking up four fouls. He had 14 points and six rebounds at the time. Redshirt-freshmen forward Matthew Moyer took his place on the floor.
With 3:53 remaining in the game, Syracuse was reminded of what it is like to not have a deep team to lean on, with Brissett, junior center Paschal Chukwu, and true freshman forward Marek Dolezaj each playing with four fouls and both Howard and Moyer playing with three apiece.
At the 1:26 mark, Brissett had picked up foul #5, resulting in an end to his night and providing Louisville with two free shots, both of which King made to bring the Syracuse lead down to four, 71-67.
Fast forward a few seconds to about a minute remaining in the game, Battle went for a jumper right before the shot clock expired and Dolezaj met the ball on the other side of the rim, hitting the ball in off the glass with his right hand to extend the Orange out to a six-point advantage, 73-67, with 54.9 seconds to play.
Then, after going 3-for-19 from three-point range in the game, the Cardinals went 2-for-2 to bring themselves within one possession of the Orange on multiple occasions, when freshman forward Jordan Nwora connected on a shot from beyond the arc to make it 73-70 Syracuse with 30 seconds left and then sophomore guard Ryan McMahon made his own deep shot to get the Syracuse lead to 76-73 with 10 seconds to go.
Howard and Battle would answer during these instances by going a combined 5-for-6 from the free-throw line, with Battle making all of his last four tries from the charity stripe en route to a 78-73 win for the Orange.
Both players combined to score more than half of the team's 78 points, with Battle amounting 25 points and Howard attaining 22 points.
Junior forward Ray Spalding would lead Louisville with 18 points, coming off the bench in the game.
The win by Syracuse places them at the same overall record as Louisville, at 16-8, with the Orange moving to 5-6 in the ACC and the Cardinals now 6-5.
Another game in the books, and another change for Syracuse like the weather.
Luckily for the Orange, this weather forecast was a desirable one, something they hope to carry with them as they move forward.
|Posted on January 27, 2018 at 6:00 PM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
Syracuse Orange true freshmen center Bourama Sidibe has been hampered by tendonitis since the beginning of the season, making mention to me within the first two games that he had been working through it to the best of his ability.
His abilities, as a result, had been affected by it, after Sidibe had clearly demonstrated good hand-eye coordination, good hands, and a fire to go after the ball in any and all situations.
In five of the team's last 12 games, Sidibe did not register a single minute on the floor.
There was even a time when head coach Jim Boeheim had stated that he could still redshirt Sidibe if need be, to prevent Sidibe losing a season of eligibility.
But Sidibe continued to remain active on the roster, available for their road game against their longtime rival, the Pittsburgh Panthers, and for their sake, Syracuse was blessed to have him there on a bench that has become increasingly smaller.
With redshirt-freshman forward Matthew Moyer out due to an injury to his left leg sustained a game before, in a home contest versus the Boston College Eagles, the Orange were left with Sidibe and true freshman point guard Howard Washington, Jr., with true freshman forward Marek Dolezaj moving into the starting lineup in place of Moyer.
The most minutes Sidibe had played in an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) game this season was 10 minutes, versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, where he accumulated four points, two rebounds, and one block in a two-point loss, 51-49, at home in the Carrier Dome.
He had been on the floor for 35 minutes cumulative over the team's first seven games inside the conference leading into this road contest with the Panthers.
In a game where there were seven ties and neither team ever held a double-digit lead, Sidibe ended up proving to be a catalyst whose output would propel the Orange to their second victory against the Panthers this season.
Sidibe played in 31 of 40 minutes in this game, almost equaling his time played in seven combined ACC games this season as aforementioned.
His totals for games versus the ACC this season were four points, five rebounds, and two blocks.
To say that Sidibe eclipsed those numbers in this game alone against Pittsburgh would be an understatment.
At the end of 31 minutes played on the road at The Petersen Events Center a.k.a. "The Pete", Sidibe had gathered 18 points, 16 rebounds, and three blocks.
He had outdone his seven-game ACC totals by 14 points, 11 rebounds, and one block in this one game alone.
This performance is Sidibe's single-game career best for points in a game as well as rebounds in a game. It is also just the second time Sidibe has attained double-digits in scoring in a game this season and the very first double-double of his young collegiate career.
Take Sidibe out of the equation in this contest versus Pittsburgh and Syracuse has their five-point victory, 60-55, turn into a double-digit loss, on a night where junior point guard Frank Howard and true freshman forward Oshae Brissett did not reach double-figures in scoring and only one other Syracuse player, sophomore shooting guard Tyus Battle, amounted double-digits in scoring (14).
Say what you want to say about this team, but you cannot intelligently state that heroes by numerous different names have not stepped up here in the 2017-18 season, and this time it may very well have been the most unlikely hero.
I guess nothing can keep Sidibe down.
Or the Orange for that matter, as they move to 4-4 in the ACC, and 15-6 overall.
|Posted on January 24, 2018 at 9:05 PM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
The longtime rivalry that carried over from the old Big East Conference into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) was center stage... well, center court... when the Syracuse Orange played host to the Boston College Eagles.
Both teams came into the match-up with 13 overall wins, while each being under .500 in the ACC, Syracuse at 2-4 and Boston College at 3-4. A victory for the Orange would leap-frog their squad over the Eagles in the ACC standings, while a win for the Eagles would keep the Orange residing in the basement of the ACC.
The squads remained close with one another to open the game, tying at 2-2 and 5-5 early on, before Boston College went on a 9-2 run that began with a make from beyond the arc by sophomore guard Ky Bowman.
Syracuse would respond with their own run, 7-0, that would bring about the third tie of the first half, at 14-14, with the tying two points coming from a layup by junior point guard Frank Howard.
That layup by Howard and the previous field goal by sophomore shooting guard Tyus Battle each came after junior center Paschal Chukwu halted tries by Boston College at the rim.
Chukwu would jump into and through the Eagles' bench and then out into the crowd trying to save possession for the Orange, showing his early tenacious play continue.
Syracuse would attain their first lead with 11:41 left before halftime off of a three-point make by true freshman forward Oshae Brissett that brought the score to 19-18 in favor of the Orange.
Bowman would take the lead back quickly when he went 2-for-3 from the charity stripe after being fouled attempting a three.
Then the Orange would go on an 8-0 run, helping them to a nine-point lead, 32-23, with 6:24 remaining before half.
First Brissett then Howard would go on individual runs for the Orange, with Brissett scoring 10 straight points for Syracuse from the 12:52 mark to 9:49 remaining and Howard also scoring 10 straight for the team from the 7:01 mark to 3:45 remaining.
At the break, Syracuse led Boston College by 10, 47-37, after Chukwu cleaned up a Howard miss from deep with a putback in front of the rim with under three seconds to go.
The Eagles launched the ball at the end of the half and it fell through the nylon from three-quarters court away, but the shot was not counted because it was ruled to have come after the game clock had expired.
Bowman got the Eagles on the board first in the second half, but the Orange countered with an 11-0 run, with Dolezaj achieving back-to-back makes inside, followed by a three-point field goal and then a jumper by Battle, and then a field goal at the rim by Chukwu. This string of points would elevate the Orange to a 58-40 lead with 15:12 remaining.
Bowman and junior guard Jerome Robinson would combine to score the next 13 points for Boston College, but Syracuse would refuse to rescind the lead en route to an 81-63 victory. Once they took their second lead of the game at 21-20 with 10:50 remaining in the first half, Syracuse would never let it out of their hands, holding the advantage for the final 30 minutes and 50 seconds of the game.
Chukwu was impressive on the offensive end, finishing with 14 points, on 6-for-7 shooting and going 2-for-2 from the line, which he added to his seven rebounds (4 offensive, 3 defensive) and two blocks.
Howard came out with 1:37 remaining, ending his night on the floor with 18 points, six assists, three rebounds, and not a single turnover.
Chukwu and Howard would join a group of five Syracuse players that would attain double-figures in scoring, with Battle atop all Orange with 24 points, followed by Howard's 18, Chukwu's 14, Brissett's 13, and Dolezaj's 12.
Syracuse ended the game shooting 60.4% from the field, making 29 of their 48 attempts, including 7-for-16 from long range, to achieve 43.8% on the night.
Boston College concluded the contest 21-for-44 (47.7%) from the field, including making 47.8% of their shots from beyond the arc (11-for-23). Bowman and Robinson each played all 40 minutes of the game for the Eagles, Bowman finishing with 20 and Robinson with 21, combining to score 41 of the team's 63 points.
With the win, the Orange move to 14-6 overall while the Eagles head to 13-7. Inside the ACC, this win rolls the Orange past the Eagles in the standings, with Syracuse at 3-4 and Boston College at 3-5.
After losing four straight conference games, the Orange are now on a two-game winning streak inside the ACC, with back-to-back wins over historic rivals, the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Boston College Eagles.
|Posted on January 21, 2018 at 6:05 PM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
The conversation about "Thumbgate" was over and it was time to play football.
To see what the Jacksonville Jaguars would bring to Gillette Stadium, and how the New England Patriots would defend their home turf.
Quarterback Tom Brady looked impressive to begin, completing to wide receiver Danny Amedola for a 20-yard play on 4th-&-2 from the Jaguars' 30-yard line to keep the team's opening drive alive. He was 6-for-6 in pass attempts on the drive.
But New England struggled to get any closer than Jacksonville's 12-yard line, and with a sack by Jacksonville defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr., on third down, the Jaguars only gave up three points instead of seven on the Patriots' opening drive. New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski connected from 31 yards away to take the early 3-0 lead with 9:21 remaining in the first quarter.
Jacksonville achieved two first downs on their opening drive before New England helped to cancel out back-to-back reception attempts with positive pass defense. This forced the Jaguars to punt away their opening drive, giving the ball back to the Patriots with 5:01 left in the opening quarter.
But Jacksonville would force New England to punt on their second offensive drive of the game, taking possession back with 2:51 left in the first quarter, on their own 24-yard line.
The Jaguars matched and surpassed their first-down total (2) from their first drive on their following drive, gaining four first downs.
They had already moved from their own 24-yard line to the 28-yard line of the Patriots by the end of the first quarter, beginning the second quarter with a 1st-&-10 situation, shortly outside of the Patriots' redzone.
On the very first play of the second quarter, Jacksonville continued their drive by sending running back Corey Grant out of the backfield. He caught a short pass from Bortles and sped off for a 20-yard gain to New England's four-yard line. It was Grant's second catch-and-run for 20 yards on the drive.
The Jaguars followed with a four-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to tight end Marcedes Lewis, open in the end zone, to give the Jaguars their first lead of the game, 7-3, with 14:15 to play before half.
Jacksonville would not allow a first down on New England's next drive, and Brady would have his first incompletion of the game when he overshot running back Dion Lewis. Defensive end Calais Campbell would get to Lewis for a one-yard loss on a rush attempt shortly after.
With the Patriots punting on back-to-back drives, the Jaguars held a 7-3 lead and the ball with 13:13 before the break.
After moving backward five yards on a false-start penalty, Bortles orchestrated back-to-back first downs with a short pass to Grant on 1st-&-15 that he took 15 yards for the new set of downs, followed by Bortles finding wide receiver Allen Hurns in the open field for a 27-yard gain to New England's 40-yard line.
Bortles would then look to running back Leonard Fournette, needing two yards. When Fournette was stopped for no gain, Jaguars' offensive coordinator Nate Hackett went right back to him, and Fournette rushed for the first down on 3rd-&-2.
Hackett and Bortles would display their trust for yet another running back, T.J. Yeldon, to follow. When Yeldon was stopped for a three-yard loss after his reception, the next play was a pass to Yeldon. This time, he took the ball 12 yards to the New England six-yard line for a first down.
Fournette would rush on the next play for two yards, and then complete the drive by barreling in from four yards out, assisted by his offensive line, on the following play for the team's second touchdown of the game, providing them a 14-3 lead with 7:06 remaining before halftime.
Despite a big-time reception by tight end Rob Gronkowski, Jacksonville would force New England to punt for the third straight time, following Fowler, Jr.'s, second sack of the game, a hard hit on Brady on third down, after multiple players disrupted Brady.
Running the ball twice to open their fourth drive of the game, the Jaguars then decided to air it out, and Bortles found wide receiver Keelan Cole for a first down on a 26-yard gain, where Cole reeled in the ball, put one foot down and seemingly dragged his second foot. Jacksonville would quickly run the next play, taking a penalty even, to prevent a challenge flag from coming in from New England.
But the Jaguars would take themselves out of a scoring opportunity when they accumulated consecutive penalties, the first taking back a Lewis reception that would have gone for a first down. What could have been another scoring drive for Jacksonville turned into their second punt of the game.
The Jaguars followed back-to-back offensive penalties with back-to-back defensive penalties shortly after, allowing the Patriots down the field and well into their redzone, where running back James White carried the ball in from a yard out to bring the score to 14-10 Jaguars with 55 seconds before half.
Jacksonville's back-to-back defensive penalties were a personal foul on strong safety Barry Church who let with his shoulder and placed a big hit on Gronkowski, forcing him to drop the ball and then pass interference on cornerback A.J. Bouye who was blanketing his receiver and not looking at the ball. Gronkowski would head to the locker room after the hit.
The Patriots came out of the locker rooms in the second half with Gronkowski questionable to return with a head injury. He was ruled out at the start of the fourth quarter, not returning for a single play in the second half.
Taking four minutes and 37 seconds off of the clock to begin the third quarter, Jacksonville came away with points on kicker Josh Lambo's first field-goal attempt of the game, a 54-yarder that elevated Jacksonville to a 17-10 lead.
Their defense would force a punt by the Patriots on the Patriots' first drive of the second half, taking the ball back with 7:31 to go in the third quarter.
But the Jaguars would punt the ball right back after Bortles took a sack. Bortles was not sacked a single time in the AFC Divisional Round match-up with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
From their own 46, New England would switch fields and get to only the Jacksonville 46, punting away on a three-and-out for their second straight punt to begin the second half.
On 3rd-&-3 on the next Jaguars' drive, wide receiver Marqise Lee would catch a pass from Bortles thrown behind him and move forward for an 18-yard gain and a first down. Then, Bortles threw across his body to Hurns for a 15-yard play for another first down on a play that began with a flea flicker and then Bortles having to run out of harm's way. Lee would attain the team's third first down of the drive off of another reception and Fournette would grab the fourth on a quick pitch that he took over the first-down marker.
At the end of the third quarter, Jacksonville had the ball on the New England 25-yard line on 3rd-&-8.
They would open the fourth quarter with a 43-yard field goal by Lambo within the first eight seconds, giving the Jaguars a 20-10 advantage.
Then the defense would make a massive play, taking the ball away from the Patriots after a huge gain by Lewis. As Lewis came down, the ball started to come out and somehow linebacker Myles Jack had the ball when both he and Lewis fell to the ground. The play was reviewed and the call stood, with the Jaguars taking over at their own 33-yard line.
Despite the offense failing to score, Jacksonville's defense prevented a potential scoring drive for New England and were able to take some time off of the clock.
But Brady was not done, going 5-for-7 on his pass attempts on the next drive, completing pass plays that went 18, 21, and 31 yards and then ending with back-to-back completions to Amendola, the latter being a nine-yard scoring play that brought the game to 20-17, with the Jaguars still in the lead, with 8:44 to play.
Forcing Jacksonville to punt with 6:30 to go, New England began a drive from their own 19.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey would be called for pass interference on that Patriots' drive, giving up 36 yards to the Patriots, but the Jaguars would force the drive to end in a punt, starting their drive from their own 10-yard line with 6:01 to go in the game.
Jacksonville lost a yard on their possession and punted the ball right back to Amendola, who returned the ball 20 yards to the Jacksonville 30-yard line with 4:58 remaining,
Brady and Amendola would connect once again for their second consecutive scoring play when Brady went to Amendola in the back of the end zone, giving the Patriots a 24-20 advantage, their first lead since 3-0.
With 2:48 to go and all three of their timeouts, the Jaguars took over.
A fumble by Bortles would be recovered by left tackle Cam Robinson after a nine-yard loss, leaving Jacksonville with a 3rd-&-19 situation from the New England 47-yard line. They would go for it on 4th-&-14 and cornerback Stephon Gilmore would block the ball from wide receiver Dede Westbrook, marking a turnover on downs for Jacksonville.
Lewis would rush the ball around the edge for a first down that silenced the Jaguars push for the win.
The Patriots head back to the Super Bowl, and the Jaguars head back to Jacksonville much better than they were, but with more work to do.
|Posted on January 18, 2018 at 10:25 AM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
A new chapter has begun in Syracuse Football history, entitled: "Welcome to 2018, The Year of More".
Why do I don this season with that title?
That, my friends, has an easy answer.
Syracuse has gone 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in each of head coach Dino Babers' first two seasons in Syracuse, New York.
But during that time period, Babers has led the Orange to defeat two Top-25 nationally-ranked teams, with a victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies in the 2016 season and a win against the Clemson Tigers in the 2017 season.
In 2016, the Hokies went on to win the ACC Coastal Division and compete in a very close contest with the Tigers of Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
Syracuse was the only team to have a win versus Clemson in the regular season in 2017, defeating the team that went on to win the ACC Atlantic Division, play in and emerge victorious in the ACC Championship Game, and be ranked #1 in the nation which went with having a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff.
So the records for Babers' first two seasons in Central New York do not allow the full scope of the progress that the team is working to bring about toward a brighter future.
The moves you make today will have an effect on your tomorrow's, and the addition of mid-year enrollees are moves that the Orange hope will end up being the steps that turn a team that has won some big-time games into a squad that is adding winning seasons and bowl berths to the fray.
Here are the 10 Orange mid-year enrollees that are available to practice in the upcoming Spring semester:
Chance Amie, Quarterback - 6'3" True Freshman out of Robert E. Lee High School in Flint, Texas
There will be, as much as some fans do not want to believe it, a time when Eric Dungey will not be the quarterback of Syracuse. That moment is only one season of eligibility away, so the Orange need to plan for the future, and Amie is an option that will compete with redshirt-freshman Tommy DeVito and redshirt-sophomore Rex Culpepper. Culpepper played in four of 12 games in 2017, finishing with 45 completions on 75 attempts (60%) for a total of 518, with two touchdowns and three interceptions in his first collegiate action of his young career. He also ran 21 times for a total of 54 yards (2.6 yards per carry). In Syracuse's final game of the 2017 season, Culpepper had a completion of 70.6%, going 24-for-34 and achieved his two aforementioned passing touchdowns.
Cam Jonas, Safety - 6'1" True Freshman out of Dwyer High School in Palm Beach, Florida
Jonas joins a safety group in need of depth and consistency on the field. Antwan Cordy has not only been the team's best safety over the past few seasons, but has also been one of the best overall defenders the Orange have in general. The problem has been his health. After playing in 23 of 24 games in his first two seasons with Syracuse, Cordy has been on the field for a mere three of the 24 games the Orange have played in between the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Jordan Martin, who had filled in for an injured Cordy in 2017, has completed his eligibility with Syracuse, and Daivon Ellison has chosen to transfer out of the program, leaving Rodney Williams with the most experience at safety for Syracuse.
Juan Wallace, Jr., Linebacker - 6'2" True Freshman out of Washington, D.C., coming off of his time at IMG Academny in Bradenton, Florida
Wallace, Jr., enters onto an Orange team that had to bid adieu to all three of their starting linebackers, with Zaire Franklin, Parris Bennett, and Jonathan Thomas all finishing up their collegiate eligibility after completing the 2017 season. The doors are wide open to who will take over the interior of the defense, so he will have an opportunity to immediately impact the team and depending on the impact that he makes, he could see himself on the field very quickly.
Andre Cisco, Safety - 6'0" True Freshman out of Valley Stream, New York, coming off of his time at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Like Jonas, Cisco is coming onto a team that needs health and consistent strong play at safety. He and Jonas have the opportunity to make an impact right away, and could be seen on the field very early in their collegiate careers if they take care of business in the trenches of Spring and Fall practices.
Lakiem Williams, Linebacker - 6'0" Junior out of Spanaway High School in Tacoma, Washington, & a JUCO Transfer from Butte College
Williams, like Wallace, Jr., will have an open opportunity to become a piece of the future of the interior of Syracuse's defense. As a junior, with two seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining, he has had experience on the field post-college that he can utilize to take him into camp as a factor and hopefully out of camp as a potential starter, or at the very least, as a member of the linebacker rotation.
Kevin Johnson Jr., Wide Receiver - 5'11" True Freshman out of Columbus, New Jersey, coming off of his time at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
If the name looks familiar, it's because it is. Kevin Johnson, Jr., is the offspring of the Syracuse phenom Kevin Johnson, who went on to play in the National Football League (NFL) after catching passes from former Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb. Newly-added wide receiver, Johnson, Jr., competed in prep school at The Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, before going on to continue his prep for collegiate football at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Johnson, Jr., was a part of the success of an 8-0 record this past year with IMG Academy on a team that concluded the season ranked second in the nation in the final USA Today Super 25 poll, behind only Mater Dei in Santa Ana, California.
With Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips finishing up their collegiate eligibiity, the Orange will need all the help they can get in creating new weapons for quarterback Eric Dungey and company to trust in the open field.
Aaron Bolinsky, Long-Snapper - 5'11" True Freshman out of North Schuylkill High School in Frackville, Pennsylvania
Bolinsky was both a long-snapper and the team's center on the offensive line as a senior at North Schuylkill High School. After aiding North Schuylkill to the District 11 Class 3A playoffs, he was bestowed with the honor of being named to the 2017 Schuylkill County Football Coaches Association (SCFCA) “Dream Team” and voted SCFCA Offensive Lineman of the Year. Before coming to North Schuylkill, Bolinsky started at center for Blue Mountain High School As a junior, Bolinsky was the starting center for Blue Mountain High School in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, helping his team to win the Eastern Conference Class AAAA championship as a junior.
Cory Smigel, Kicker/Punter - 5'8" True Freshman out of North Royalton High School in North Royalton, Ohio
Smigel was named special teams' MVP as a senior at North Royalton. In his final high school season with North Royalton, he made 17 of his 18 extra-point tries and averaged 37.1 yards per punt. His longest punt was 61 yards as a senior.
Zack Lesko, Lienbacker - 6'0" Redshirt-Junior out of Solon High School in Solon, Ohio, transferring from the Chattanooga Mocs
Lesko is in the same place as Trishton Jackson, having to sit out the 2018 season due to NCAA transfer rules, and also has two seasons of eligbility remaining. His face is a familiar one to the Orange, after having spent his true freshman season as a redshirt with Syracuse in 2016. He has yet to play a collegiate down after not being on the field in any games for the Chattanooga Mocs of the Southern Conference (So-Con) last season.
Trishton Jackson, Wide Receiver - 6'1" Junior out of West Bloomfield High School in West Bloomfield, Michigan, transferring from the Michigan State Spartans
Jackson will not be on the field in games for the 2018 season due to NCAA transfer rules. He will be eligible to play, per NCAA rules, beginning in the 2019 season and will have two seasons of eligibility in total. The 6'1" wide receiver played two seasons with the Michigan State Spartans inside of the Big Ten Conference, catching 17 passes for 232 yards and one touchdown. The majority of his stats were accumulated in 2017, where he caught 12 passes for 143 yards, averaging 11.9 yards per reception. Jackson started in four games last season.
|Posted on January 16, 2018 at 11:50 PM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
The 112th contest between the Syracuse Orange and Pittsburgh Panthers men's basketball programs took place inside the Carrier Dome on a cold, wintery night here in mid-January.
Orange junior point guard Frank Howard got things started early with a deep shot to make it 3-0 in favor of the Orange.
Fellow point guard, true freshman Howard Washington, Jr., came in at the 13:47 mark and found redshirt-freshman forward Matthew Moyer inside for a lay-in. He followed his assist with a defensive rebound immediately after.
With about 11:30 before the break, Syracuse true freshman forward Oshae Brissett's three made it 14-9 Orange.
Three minutes later, neither team had scored.
The three-point make by freshman guard Parker Stewart at the 8:01 mark of the first half ended a combined scoreless drought in the game of exactly three and a half minutes.
Syracuse would conclude their individual offensive drought after almost five full minutes without a single point when Frank Howard connected on a three-point attempt with 6:48 before halftime, off of a missed jump shot by Tyus Battle, that brought the game to a 17-12 lead for the Orange.
Moyer would attack the rim with a strong move down the baseline, and the ball would bounce in, providing a spark to continue separation for Syracuse, getting out to a 19-14 advantage.
But Pittsburgh would indeed take over the lead for their first time in the game with 4:22 left in the first half, at 22-19, courtesy of sophomore forward/center Kene Chukwuka's three-point make.
Brissett then took the ball in the lane, facing his opponent and elevating for the one-handed make, bringing the game to 22-21 Panthers.
A little over a minute later, Orange sophomore shooting guard Tyus Battle stayed with the ball and kept possession, going to the rim for a tough two with 1:42 before the break. This first field goal of the game by Battle gave the lead back to the Orange, at 23-22.
Battle would head into the lane for yet another tough make, cashing in before the halftime buzzer, to give the Orange a 27-22 advantage at the break. After starting the game 0-for-6, Battle finished the first half 2-for-2.
After scoring his first field goal of the game with under two minutes before half, Battle wasted no time to score in the second half, connecting on a jumper just 46 seconds into the second half. He had equaled his offensive total of the first half, four points, less than three minutes into the second half.
Then, like the first half, Syracuse fell into an offensive drought of over three and a half minutes, beginning after Brissett's connection from beyond the arc at the 15:38 mark. The Orange offensive drought would stretch to at least five minutes, reminiscent of the first-half struggles, and would end after five minutes and 38 seconds when Howard went 1-for-2 from the line with 10:04 remaining.
Syracuse's drought without a field goal in the second half would span a total of six minutes and seven seconds from the 15:38 mark to 9:31 remaining, when Howard would aid the offense once again, attacking the rim for two to give the Orange a 39-35 lead.
Battle would follow by connecting from long range after beginning the game 0-for-4 from distance, and Howard would get three himself, but in the old-fashioned way, with the shot and the free throw, providing the Orange their first double-digit lead of the game at 10 points, 45-35.
The feed from Syracuse true freshman forward Marek Dolezaj to junior center Paschal Chukwu down low left Chukwu with a wide open look at the rim, which he gladly took advantage of with a two-handed slam to bring the Orange back ahead 10, 47-37, with 5:13 to play.
Syracuse would hold on from there, going on a 12-6 run to finish the game with a 59-45 victory, securing an end to their losing streak at four games.
The Orange are now 2-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), while the Panthers remain as the only ACC team without a conference win at 0-6.
With the win, the Orange now have a 67-45 record head-to-head against their historic rival the Panthers in 112 games.
|Posted on January 14, 2018 at 4:40 PM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
The Jacksonville Jaguars returned to familiar territory in their AFC Divisional Round trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to face the Steelers, after having been to Heinz Field back in Week 5 of this season.
That game ended 30-9 in favor of the visiting Jaguars.
With this game meaning even more in a single-elimination situation, the Jaguars got started early. Jacksonville took four minutes and 20 seconds off the clock on their opening drive, where they went 66 yards on eight plays, split four runs to four passes. Bortles completed three of his four pass attempts, each to a different receiver. Tight end Ben Koyack caught the first after the Jaguars used their first play to run up the gut for five yards. The Koyack catch came off a play fake where the Jaguars took advantage of the Steelers respecting the run. Including this Koyack reception, there were back-to-back-to-back first downs for the Jaguars off completions through by Bortles, with the latter two caught by wide receiver Marqise Lee and tight end James O'Shaughnessy.
Then, Jacksonville went back to the run, with running back Leonard Fournette carrying the ball over the threshold for a one-yard touchdown run, providing the team with a 7-0 advantage.
The Jaguars' defense forced a punt by the Steelers on their first drive of the game, where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed two of his three pass attempts, but the Jaguars wrapped up his receivers quickly to prevent a first down.
Fournette ran up the middle and got some help from a pile, pushing with him for 10 yards and a first down on the team's first play of their second drive, but Jacksonville would end up punting the ball away after Bortles almost fumbled the ball and then threw to wide receiver Allen Hurns who failed to gain possession.
Nortman and the special teams' unit pitted Pittsburgh at their own 11, following the Jaguars' first punt of the game. Running back Le'Veon Bell got his first carry of the game at the start of the team's second drive, gaining one yard. He followed with a carry that ended in a two-yard loss, courtesy of defensive end Calais Campbell.
Then, Roethlisberger looked to tight end Vance McDonald, who was covered by linebacker Myles Jack. Jack got his hand in the passing lane to prevent the pass, but then grabbed the ball in the air, tapped two feet down, and came up with an interception at Pittsburgh's 18-yard line.
On the first play of Jacksonville's following drive, their third drive of the game, Fournette took a carry to the outside and hooked around the edge. It was originally ruled a 17-yard gain, but after a coaching challenge by Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone, the officials changed the call to an 18-yard run and touchdown by Fournette. seeing that Fournette's foot was inbounds and toe crossed the goal-line while was possessed the ball. That gave Fournette two rushing touchdowns in the game, matching his total from Week 5 versus Pittsburgh in the first quarter alone, and provided Jacksonville with a 14-0 lead in this AFC Divisional Round match-up.
Pittsburgh would elect to go for it on 4th-&-1, handing off to running back Le'Veon Bell, who was swallowed up by cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive tackle Malik Jackson for a four-yard loss and turnover on downs.
The Jaguars achieved their first third-down conversion of the game right before the end of the first quarter, when Bortles found Hurns for his first catch of the game, after Hurns had not gathered an earlier pass try to keep the aforementioned drive alive in the first quarter.
Jacksonville would continue this drive into the second quarter, taking a total of 11 plays 75 yards in four minutes and 36 seconds, ending a drive with yet another rushing score for the Jaguars, when running back T.J. Yeldon took it through tackle attempts by Pittsburgh and into the end zone from four yards out to elevate Jacksonville to a 21-0 advantage.
But the shutout would be no more when, with 8:20 remaining before halftime, Roethlisberger aired out to wide receiver Antonio Brown who broke away from cornerback A.J. Bouye as the ball approached, reeling in the reception and keeping his feet in to move the score to 21-7 Jacksonville.
Jacksonville, after moving into Pittsburgh territory, would punt the ball away, only for the second time in the first half, giving the ball to Pittsburgh at their own 25-yard line after committing an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty while punting away to Pittsburgh with four minutes remaining before half.
After a run by Bell, Jaguars' defensive end Yannick Ngakoue sacked Roethlisberger who fumbled on the way down. Linebacker Telvin Smith picked up the ball and sprinted down the sideline toward daylight, scoring after gaining the same amount of yards as his jersey number (50) en route to the Jaguars' sixth fumble recovery for a touchdown this season. With 2:20 to play before the break, Jacksonville led 28-7.
Jaguars' defensive tackle Marcell Dareus sacked Roethlisberger for a five-yard loss to force third down late in the first half, and eventually the Steelers were faced with 4th-&-11. Having not achieved a first down on 4th-&-1 earlier in the first half, the Steelers trusted in Roethlisberger, who stepped up in the pocket and send the ball to the end zone to wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who leapt and held on for a 36-yard touchdown that cut the Jaguars lead in half, 28-14, right before halftime.
Receiving the ball to begin the second half, Pittsburgh wasted no time getting back to the end zone after going an entire first quarter without crossing the goal-line. Roethlisberger involved Bell on seven of the team's 10 plays on the drive, in both the rushing and receiving game, with Bell ending the drive in the end zone, breaking away from tight coverage to reel in the ball for a 19-yard score that shrunk the Jacksonville lead to seven, 28-21.
On 4th-&-1 early in the final quarter, the Steelers elected to go for it. Roethlisberger dropped back and tried for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster but coverage on the play by cornerback A.J. Bouye prevented the completion, with the Jaguars taking over on downs for the second time in the game.
Beginning at their own 39, Jacksonviile went 61 yards on five plays to break a 14-0 run by Pittsburgh. On this drive, wide receiver Keelan Cole leapt up high into the air and got his hands on the ball in double-coverage to move the Jaguars ahead 45 yards to the Steelers' three-yard line. Fournette accumulated the three yards needed, crossing the goal-line for his third touchdown of the game, all rushing. This score moved Fournette one touchdown better than his Week 5 performance against the Steelers, also in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh came up on fourth down on their following drive, and for the fourth time in the game, they went for it. With plenty of time to throw, Roethlisberger stepped up and watched Brown chase it down for a 43-yard touchdown off of his end zone reception. This marked the second touchdown for the Steelers in the game on a fourth-down try, and it moved the Steelers back within a touchdown once again, this time 35-28.
On 3rd-&-5 on their next drive, Jacksonville was saved by Yeldon once again, who caught Bortle's attempt and accumulated 40 yards on the play, moving the ball from his own 30 to the Pittsburgh 30.
The Jaguars would lean on the run for three of the next four plays, which was working to move the ball forward and tick time off of the clock.
With the run respected throughout the game, Bortles faked the handoff to Fournette and passed over the middle to fullback Tommy Bohanon who caught the ball in the middle of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown that gave the Jaguars a 42-28 lead with 4:19 to go.
Roethlisberger would lead the Steelers to three third-down conversions on three attempts on the team's next drive, concluding the possession with a one-yard run forward, then pass backward to Bell who went ahead for eight yards into the end zone, bringing the game to a 42-35 Jaguars' lead with 2:18 to play.
Pittsburgh attempted an onsides kick to follow, and Jacksonville tight end James O'Shaughnessy ran forward to grab the ball and hold on for possession.
The Jaguars, on 4th-&-1, decided to bring placekicker Josh Lambo out for his first field-goal try of the game. Lambo booted it through the uprights from 45 yards away to raise the Jaguars to a 45-35 lead with 1:45 to go.
Seemingly not playing at full steam, Jacksonville allowed Pittsburgh down the field and they capitalized with a touchdown from Roethlisberger to Smith-Schuster with one second remaining, bringing the Jacksonville lead to 45-42.
With a downing of the ball, Jacksonville moved onto their third AFC Championship game in history, and first since the 1999-00 season, to face the New England Patriots in Foxboro on Sunday, January 21st, at 3:05pmET.
What a story.
A story that still has more pages to come.
|Posted on January 13, 2018 at 11:25 PM||comments (0)|
Article by Dan Tortora
The Jacksonville Jaguars have seen a lot in 23 seasons.
They have been at the bottom of the National Football League (NFL) standings, and at the top of the NFL Draft.
Some draft picks chosen high have not panned out.
But there have also been moments to remember, like consistently making the postseason early on and draft picks that have worked out.
It is easy to look at the overall picture of positives and negatives and think that the Jaguars' history leans more on the trying times than the celebrations.
However, Jacksonville fans have had reason to be hopeful in their city's history on the gridiron.
No other NFL franchise that has entered the league at the same time or after the Jaguars began their storyline as well as the Jaguars.
The Carolina Panthers, who also entered in 1995, advanced to the postseason in a mere one of their first eight seasons in the NFL.
The Baltimore Ravens, who were the original Cleveland Browns that were moved to Maryland in 1996, failed to attain a place in the playoffs in their first four seasons in the league before winning the Super Bowl in their fifth year.
The new version of the Cleveland Browns, a franchise that brought football back to Cleveland in 1999, has been to the postseason once in the past 19 seasons from 1999 to 2017.
The Houston Texans, who came into the league in 2002, did not advance to a spot in the postseason in any of their first nine seasons of play.
Jacksonville, however, attained a place in the playoffs in four of their first five seasons of existence, including knocking on the door of the Super Bowl twice, losing in the AFC Championship to the Titans in the 1996-97 season and the Patriots in the 1999-00 season.
But the Jaguars followed with a five-year drought before getting back to the playoffs in two out of three seasons between the 2005-06 and 2007-08 campaigns.
Then, Jacksonville went nine straight seasons without stamping their ticket to the postseason and had not won a playoff game since the 2007-08 season.
That drought came to an end when the Jaguars defeated the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, January 7th, of this year, which marked their first time hosting a playoff game since 2000, their first trip to the postseason since 2007-08, and first win in the playoffs since 2007-08.
This win has been brewing underneath a whole lot of frustration and struggling over the years, and a close look at the Jaguars will show that.
After making the postseason in the 2007-08 season, the Jaguars spent 39 draft picks from 2008 to 2013 on players that are no longer on the roster, clearing out all 39 pieces that did not fit into a postseason berth within a five-year span of subpar performance.
In the 2014 NFL Draft, Jacksonville began making moves that would pay off dividends in their build toward where they currently stand.
The team's first six draft picks in 2014 are not only all on the current roster, they have also all found themselves in meaningful playing time, when speaking of quarterback Blake Bortles (1st Round, 3rd Overall), wide receivers Marqise Lee (2nd Round, 39th Overall) and Allen Robinson (2nd Round, 61st Overall), center Brandon Linder (3rd Round, 93rd Overall), cornerback Aaron Colvin (4th Round, 114th Overall), and linebacker Telvin Smith (5th Round, 144th Overall).
Jacksonville added to their successful 2014 draft with defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. (1st Round, 3rd Overall), running back T.J. Yeldon (2nd Round, 36th Overall), and right guard A.J. Cann (3rd Round, 67th Overall) in 2015, all of whom have been starters for the team in their young history. The Jaguars' seventh-round selection, tight end Ben Koyack, chosen 229th overall, scored the touchdown that separated the team from the Bills in the recent Wild Card Round game to help propel Jacksonville into the Divisional Round versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Their top three picks in the 2016 draft are all current starters for the team, with Jalen Ramsey (1st Round, 5th Overall) at cornerback, Myles Jack (2nd Round, 36th Overall) at linebacker, and Yannick Ngakoue (3rd Round, 69th Overall), at defensive end.
The 2017 draft ended with the Jaguars having selected running back Leonard Fournette (1st Round, 4th Overall), left tackle Cam Robinson (2nd Round, 34th Overall), defensive end Dawuane Smoot (3rd Round, 68th Overall), wide receiver Dede Westbrook (4th Round, 110th Overall), and linebacker Blair Brown (5th Round, 148th Overall), with all given playing time in their rookie campaigns of 2017-18. Fournette became only the second running back in franchise history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in his rookie season, the other being Fred Taylor. Not to go unnoticed, Robinson aided Fournette in achieving this feat, reminiscent of former Jaguars' left tackle Tony Boselli helping Taylor to gain opportunities to advance the ball. Smoot, Westbrook, and Brown have all gotten involved on the field in rotation in their first chance at action in the NFL.
On top of all of the aid they have received through selecting well in the last four drafts, Jacksonville has also made positive moves in recent transactions, including the signing of defensive tackle Malik Jackson after he was a part of the 2016 Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos' team, defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye, strong safety Barry Church, free safety Tashaun Gipson, and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, just speaking on the defense alone, a defense that ranks in the top four in the nation in six categories this season. The Jaguars head into their match-up with the Steelers first in the country in yards allowed per play (4.61), first in passing yards allowed per game (169.9), second in total yards allowed per game (286.1), second in points per game ( 16.8 ), second in redzone touchdown percentage allowed (39.3%), and fourth in third-down percentage completion allowed (33.6%). They are also +10 in the turnover margin, good for fifth in the country.
Looking to the other side of the ball, Jacksonville is in the top six of 32 NFL teams in five offensive categories so far this season. The Jaguars are first in the country in rushing yards per game (141.4), second in redzone touchdown percentage (64%), fifth in points per game (26.1), fifth in time of possession average per game (31:47), and sixth in total yards per game (365.9).
A team that combined to have 11 wins from 2014-15 through 2016-17 has matched that victory total in this season alone.
It was easy to overlook the moves that were being made over the last four seasons because the win-loss column was not looking favorable for the Jaguars.
But a deeper look at the numerous moves being made in free agency, trades, and the draft clearly shows how the Jaguars have been stragetically making steps in the right direction in recent years to place themselves exactly where they are now, in the playoffs and clawing away at not only matching their historical mile-markers, but rather, surpassing them.