This time a year ago, Syracuse’s quarterback was suiting up for Mississippi State at a different position.
Garrett Shrader began his career with the Bulldogs as a quarterback in 2019 before making the move to receiver. But after making just one catch in four games last season in Mike Leach’s pass-happy system, Shrader took advantage of the NCAA’s one-time transfer waiver and sought a fresh start at Syracuse, where he has moved back behind center.
But there’s a particular part of Shrader’s game that’s more associated with receivers that has caught the eye of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and his team ahead of the Tigers’ trip to Syracuse on Friday.
“This quarterback? This guy can run,” Swinney said.
Shrader has done nearly as much damage with his legs as his right arm in his first season as the Orange’s full-time starter. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder has already racked up 412 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Only the ACC’s leading rusher, Sean Tucker (791 yards), has more rushing yards for Syracuse, and Shrader is just one rushing touchdown shy of tying his teammate for the team lead.
Shrader has been serviceable throwing the ball, too. He’s completing 57% of his passes with four touchdown passes and two interceptions, though Syracuse’s coaching staff hasn’t asked him to do much through the air. Before throwing 27 passes in the Orange’s overtime loss to Wake Forest last week, Shrader had attempted more than 15 passes just once (23 at Florida State).
He has nearly as many rushing attempts (75) as passing (87). Shrader has run it at least 16 times in each of the last three games and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games on the ground, including a season-high 178 rushing yards against Wake Forest. All of his rushing touchdowns have come in the last four games.
Swinney said Syracuse has “every run scheme you can think of” as it relates to the quarterback run game and likes to work off of that with play-action passes and the screen game. In other words, the Orange prefer to get a signal caller averaging 5.5 yards a carry involved on the ground first and then go from there.
“Sometimes I think they just tell everybody to go deep, and then he just runs. It’s unbelievable,” Swinney said. “People don’t tackle him. He’s breaking tackles, and he’s a really good player. We’ll have our hands full with this guy.”
A quarterback that runs as much as Shrader can also affect how defenses operate on the back end on passing downs. Playing man coverage is a risky proposition since defenders often have to turn their back to the play in order to run with receivers and tight ends, which could leave Clemson vulnerable when Shrader pulls the ball down and tries to scramble.
Could that result in more zone than usual from the Tigers? Swinney isn’t about to reveal the game plan ahead of Friday’s game, but he said his defense will have to be ready for anything against a quarterback that’s utilized differently than any Clemson has seen to this point.
“If you’re not on point with this guy, it’s 40 yards. Or it’s 50 yards because he can run away from you,” Swinney said. “He’s really smart, savvy and has a great understanding of what they’re doing schematically. It’s obviously zone-read type of stuff, but they’ve got a lot of designed runs. And again, the shots and play-actions that come off it. They stress you from a coverage standpoint.”
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