SYRACUSE — Syracuse University senior running back Moe Neal has 2,000 reasons to enjoy the Orange’s upcoming bye week.
Neal became the 23rd player in SU football history to surpass 2,000 career rushing yards during a 41-3 nonconference victory over FCS Holy Cross on Saturday with an announced crowd of 40,575 on hand to witness the prolific achievement at the Carrier Dome.
Neal surpassed the coveted mark on his second carry of the game, a five-yard run up the middle to begin SU’s second possession in the first quarter. He had little time to savor the moment as the offense quickly lined up for its second-down play in an attempt to get its up-tempo, no-huddle offense into rhythm.
SU quarterback Tommy DeVito had snapped the ball for the next play while the announcement of Neal’s milestone was still being recited to the crowd.
“First I just had to thank God, it’s been a hell of a journey,” Neal said afterward. “It’s like a surreal feeling to get such a great accomplishment at such a prestigious school that has a great long list of running backs. I have to thank my past and current teammates because when you get yards like that, you can’t do it yourself, especially as a running back, and the O-line has been great for all of my four years here.”
Neal started Saturday’s game with 1,995 career rushing yards, and worked his way around the edge for a four-yard gain on SU’s opening drive for his only touch of the possession.
He finished his 42nd career game with 36 net yards on 11 carries and will enter SU’s next outing — Oct. 10 at North Carolina State — with 2,031 career rushing yards. Neal became the first SU player to surpass the 2,000 mark since 2014 when Prince Tyson-Gulley wrapped up his Orange career with 2,063 rushing yards.
The only FBS programs with more career 2,000-yard rushers than SU are Oklahoma (32), Nebraska (30), Ohio State (27), and Oklahoma State (25).
Neal also entered Saturday with a career yards-per-carry average of 5.31, which ranks seventh all-time for the Orange behind Ernie Davis (6.63), Jim Brown (5.79), Robert Drummond (5.51), Walter Reyes (5.48), James Mungro (5.42) and Floyd Little (5.37).
“When I think of Moe Neal I think about that run versus Western Michigan (last week) where he ran right through two tacklers arms and into the end zone, and didn’t even give them the time of day when they came up to tackle him, along with that back door power run in the (season opener) Liberty game,” SU coach Dino Babers said. “He’s really come a long way and deserves all the kudos that he gets, and he’s got eight or nine more games to run by some really impressive names from the past.”
Neal has stated that his season-long goal is to finish with the first 1,000-yard rushing season for the Orange since Jerome Smith ran for 1,171 yards in 2012.
Neal — a Gastonia, N.C., native that enrolled early at SU during 2016 spring practice — has also contributed 463 career receiving yards, which is the sixth-most among RBs in the FBS and leads all active ACC rushers.
He finished Saturday’s victory with season totals of 317 net rushing yards on 72 attempts (4.4 yards per catch) to go with three rushing touchdowns, and has contributed an additional 14 catches for 159 receiving yards.