Big trouble: Facing WVU’s dynamic offense, SU looks to eliminate big plays on defense

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Marquis Spruill can’t explain the disparity of the Syracuse defense. He hears the numbers. In a unit that has been wildly inconsistent from game to game this season, the stats are all there near the top. SU ranks 18th in the nation in total defense. Tied for a cool 19th in first downs allowed, holding opponents to just 16 first downs per game. But then there’s the big play. The red zone plays. When opponents are inside the Orange’s 20-yard line, they score 86 percent of the time. That figure is virtually the only stat that ranks SU near the bottom of college football on defense — 85th overall. It’s troubling to Spruill, a freshman linebacker. He pauses for eight seconds, thinking about why a defense that looks dominant on paper has had so much trouble in big spots. ‘(Eighty-five) in the red zone?’ Spruill said. ‘I couldn’t really — I don’t even really know.’AdvertisementThis is placeholder text As the Orange (4-2, 1-1 Big East) heads to West Virginia for a contest with the No. 20 Mountaineers (5-1, 1-0 Big East) Saturday at noon (ESPN2), keeping WVU’s middle-of-the-pack, yet dynamic, offense out of the end zone in those big-play situations could be crucial in determining the outcome of a close game. It’s a matchup SU is looking to win for the first time since 2001. In its two losses this season, Syracuse has been plagued by the big play. The backbreaker. And on Saturday, it will be especially important to correct. Because to SU head coach Doug Marrone, this West Virginia team is the best his Syracuse squad has faced thus far. A common theme this season has been Marrone preparing the Orange as if it is facing a Top 10 team every week. And this time, Marrone admitted the Mountaineers are far and away better than the Maine’s, the Colgate’s and the Akron’s. Even Pittsburgh. ‘To date, this is the best team we’ve faced, from what I’ve seen on film,’ Marrone said. ‘Coming off a big loss — a disappointing loss — to a Pitt team, the schedule doesn’t get any easier. We’re playing a West Virginia team that’s all of Pitt and probably more speed.’ The challenge for this SU defense will come in the form of a four-headed monster of weapons that are among the Big East’s leaders in their respective categories. Quarterback Geno Smith is second in the conference in passing yards per game and pass efficiency. Running back Noel Devine is a two-way threat. And wide receivers Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin are one-two in receptions per game. ‘They have the potential to be an explosive offense with the players that they have,’ Marrone said. ‘I think this is a Top 10 football team. … We’re playing a team that truly, deservedly, should be a Top 10 football team.’ And the key to stop those threats starts with stopping the big plays, the third-down conversions in the red zone that came back to haunt the Orange against Pittsburgh. Three plays, 170 yards. Those three plays — a 79-yard touchdown reception by Devin Street to start the game, a 61-yard reception by Jon Baldwin and a 30-yard touchdown reception by Mike Shanahan — are what the SU defensive coordinator pinpoints as the main perpetrators of the blowout. ‘Yeah, the big plays did kill us,’ Shafer said. ‘We missed some tackles. … You can’t take those back. You take them back, and we’re sitting here having a different conversation. So you look at where we lost leverage or where we missed a tackle or two here and there.’ One of those broken plays was a surprise — the 79-yard touchdown to start the game, when a simple bubble-screen from Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri turned into a mad dash to the end zone for Street and humbled the SU defense to start the game. Shafer credits that to the Panthers’ scheme and game plan for the Orange. They went away from their bread and butter — the power formation. Shafer said Pittsburgh ran 46 plays out of that formation in its four previous games. Against SU, he said the Panthers only lined up six or seven times in the formation. The element of surprise caught Syracuse off guard. But Shafer isn’t altering the way he prepares. He has to scheme for the percentages. ‘You have to go with the numbers,’ Shafer said. ‘You have to go with the percentages. You have to prepare for who they are and what they do well. They’re not going to change. They’re going to do what they do well.’ Spruill was the culprit in another of those plays last Saturday against the Panthers. A Dion Lewis rush for no gain and a false start on Pittsburgh had pushed the Panthers back to second-and-goal at SU’s 15-yard line. Then Spruill missed his assignment. Pitt running back Ray Graham slipped out of the backfield and found himself wide open to stroll into the end zone. It gave the Panthers a 14-7 lead, the start of a 28-point run that would put the game away. ‘I think it’s just when we get in that type of mode,’ Spruill said of red-zone situations, ‘everyone gets excited, and one person might forget their assignment. And that one blown assignment might mess up the whole thing, and they might get a big play out of it.’ So though most of his defensive stats are near the top of the charts, Shafer knows the most telling number is perhaps that glaring 85. Spruill knows the elements his defense will face. He took a trip to be amid the Mountaineer faithful last year while at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. That game was against Colorado, and the only way he described being with the crowd was ‘crazy.’ He also knows the elements the defense will face on the field, in the form of those four players very capable of turning no-gains into big plays. And he knows for the Orange to win, those recurring big plays can’t happen. ‘It’s very important,’ Spruill said. ‘We can’t let them do that, because that obviously puts us in a big hole. … It’s just something we have to work on.’ bplogiur@syr.edu Commentscenter_img Published on October 20, 2010 at 12:00 pmlast_img read more

Syracuse upsets Cornell to earn 1st NCAA tournament win in program history

first_img Published on November 16, 2012 at 12:14 am Contact Trevor: tbhass@syr.edu | @TrevorHass ITHACA, N.Y. — After Syracuse earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, SU goalkeeper Alex Bono knew his team still had more to accomplish. It was the Orange’s second-ever NCAA tournament appearance – and first since 1984 – but Bono wasn’t ready for the season to end.“At first your name pops up and you’re excited and happy to be in,” Bono said. “But the main message from Coach (Ian McIntyre) was that you can’t be content with getting in. You have to do something in the tournament to really make a mark on the season.”That’s exactly what Syracuse (13-6) did with a 1-0 win over Cornell (15-2) in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday night at Berman Field in Ithaca, N.Y. Behind a stellar performance by Bono and the SU defense, the Orange pulled the upset for its first NCAA tournament win in program history. Syracuse now travels to Richmond, Va., to face No. 14-seed Virginia Commonwealth in the second round Sunday Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.“I felt that, on a pretty cold night, it was an exciting soccer match,” McIntyre said. “I’m very proud of our guys to come to a difficult environment and eke out a result tonight.”The result was possible thanks to Lars Muller’s goal in the 10th minute. The senior forward saw teammate Tyler Hilliard with the ball near the right sideline, burst toward the box and corralled a pinpoint pass. After his first shot was deflected, Muller placed the rebound in the top right corner.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textMuller grew frustrated throughout the waning stages of the season, as he was limited with a groin injury during the final months. After weeks of rehab, though, he was finally healthy – just in time for the postseason.His training paid off with his decisive goal in Syracuse’s landmark victory.“I put a lot of effort in to get back on the pitch,” Muller said. “Now I was back on the pitch, and I scored the winner in a national tournament game. It’s just great for me.”Following Muller’s early goal, Syracuse fended off a slew of Cornell attacks throughout the game to preserve the program-defining win. Cornell’s dynamic offense didn’t make things easy for the Orange, yet SU held on for the victory, thanks in large part to Bono.Despite constant pressure from Cornell’s explosive offense and frequent heckling from a rambunctious, overflowing crowd, Bono thwarted a slew of Big Red attacks, particularly in the final minutes.With less than two minutes to go, Big Red defender Jake Rinow had a small window to unleash a cannon in the direction of the net. Bono dove to his left, as the ball flew just right of the goalpost.Moments later, Cornell goalkeeper Rick Pflasterer sprinted downfield as a last resort, his team needing one goal to keep its season alive.Pflasterer almost delivered the equalizer.He headed the ball forward and it was loose for a few seconds. Cornell forwards Daniel Haber and Tyler Regan jockeyed for position, but Syracuse defender Jordan Murrell cleared the ball in the nick of time.Cornell controlled possession for much of the game, yet the Syracuse defense and Bono calmly turned away each attempt.“Another great game from Bono,” Syracuse midfielder Ted Cribley said. “Another clean sheet. In the last five minutes they got a lot of bodies in the box and it was difficult. Overall, a great performance from the back four and Bono as well.”McIntyre said he is proud of his team for battling and coming away with the momentous win. He gave credit to Cornell, but said his team flourished in a game with high stakes.“For me personally I’m just very proud of this group of young men,” McIntyre said. “They put their bodies on the line.“I asked them to enjoy it. I’m not sure if they enjoyed it, but they certainly left everything out there.” Comments Related Stories Syracuse defense rises to occasion, shuts down national goal-scoring leader Haber to beat Cornell in NCAA tournament opening roundGallery: Syracuse upsets Cornell 1-0 in 1st round of NCAA tournamentcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more