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

Brycen Goodine’s game-winning putback lifts Syracuse over Wake Forest, 75-73

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Brycen Goodine shouldn’t have been on the court with the score tied and five seconds left. But the freshman watched Elijah Hughes and the ball operate atop the key, stood in front of the Syracuse bench before filling the baseline. He figured his defender would also track the second-leading scorer in the Atlantic Coast Conference, not the freshman who’d appeared in 13 games total. The pass Goodine originally looked for when he reached the paint wasn’t there so he switched sides. Fellow freshman Jesse Edwards battled over two bodies and tipped Hughes’ miss to Goodine. Seconds later, Goodine kissed the bank shot off the glass and averted disaster for Syracuse. “I didn’t even realize what had happened when it happened,” Goodine said postgame. All season, Orange coaches wanted Goodine in the lane, he said. His inaction has partially kept him off the floor. On Saturday night, however, Goodine acquiesced and defeated Wake Forest in the process. Wake Forest enforced its second-half plan, while the Orange, according to head coach Jim Boeheim, were “sleeping” for most of the frame. Defensive lapses eroded SU’s double-digit lead. Foul troubles cast away three key Syracuse players. Having the game in the hands of Edwards, then Goodine — who scored his first bucket since Jan. 22 at Notre Dame — was what Wake Forest wanted. But the never-before-seen, or practiced, unit of Edwards, Goodine, Hughes, Joe Girard III and Buddy Boeheim at small forward prevailed.It started when Buddy volunteered himself for the three-position after Marek Dolezaj drew his second technical foul. And it ended when Andrien White’s three-quarter-court heave bounced off the backboard. The unheralded group ended Syracuse’s  (14-9, 7-5 ACC) losing skid, carrying it through the final 5:42 of a 75-73 win over Wake Forest (10-13, 3-10). AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“It’s fitting, a little,” Boeheim said while chuckling postgame. “That was a heck of a play. Two freshmen who don’t play much.” The newly-released net rankings have SU 64th, seventh in the ACC. The win over 105th-ranked Wake Forest kept the status quo in check. Five-straight wins reset the season. Two losses grounded expectations. And Saturday night’s win set the stage for the season’s final third. The Orange are still looking for a big conference win, yet proved again they can handle everybody else. Both sides started slowly. Aside from a Dolezaj coast-to-coast lay in, Wake Forest’s 2-3 zone kept the ball on the perimeter initially. Girard clanged an open floater on one possession and fired a pass to no one, ricocheting the ball off the hoop’s padding. As they would for much of the first half, the Demon Deacons sought lanes inside the paint. Seven-foot center Olivier Sarr, who entered the contest averaging 13 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, hurled himself toward the rim for sporadic results. Offensive rebounds skittered away from Sarr and into white jerseys. After three forwards fouled out in the second half, including freshman Quincy Guerrier, Syracuse operated with a lineup it hadn’t used before. Max Freund | Staff PhotographerThe Orange’s offense mainly featured the guards running two-man games, hunting for a shooting platform. Defensively, as it did to Pittsburgh and Boston College, SU zoned a bad shooting team to mostly positive results. It doubled Sarr whenever the center touched the ball inside the arc. Syracuse forced Wake Forest’s leading-scorer Brandon Childress (15.3 points per game) to facilitate, pressuring him as others stood around. Late in the first half, the Demon Deacons notched a few buckets late in the shot clock. Buddy matched a Jahcobi Neath 3 with his own 3-pointer 23 seconds later. And when Syracuse opened the second half with a 7-0 run, it was Wake Forest’s turn to answer back. White — brother of former SU guard Andrew White — capped the visitor’s own 7-0 stretch with a 3. “This game should’ve been safe,” Boeheim said. The pace slowed to Wake Forest’s liking and a team that registers nearly one-fourth of its points at the free throw line attempted 27, missing just six. The Demon Deacons charged the lane and disrupted game flow. Quincy Guerrier tallied his fifth foul with 9:49 left, Bourama Sidibe followed nine seconds later. When Buddy clanged a free throw with SU up one, he threw his head back. On the sideline, Boeheim discarded his black sport coat.Sarr then delivered Wake its first lead with a lay-up in the final six minutes. Referees checked at least three calls at the scorer’s table in the second half. They drew boos from the crowd, screams from the Orange bench and, eventually, expletives after issuing two technical fouls to Dolezaj in a minute. During the mid-game huddle, Buddy offered himself at forward. He only played the three-role a few times in practice during the last two years, Buddy said. Meanwhile, Boeheim turned to Goodine for his defensive and rebounding abilities. The unit mustered four steals, two of which came from Edwards. It also featured a four-out set on offense, giving room for Hughes to carry the workload. Edwards and Goodine each contributed an important late rebound, but none more apparent than the last. “You gotta admire that group that was on the court the last four minutes,” Boeheim said. “…We didn’t have anybody out there. It was a tremendous effort.” Commentscenter_img Published on February 8, 2020 at 10:36 pm Contact Nick: nialvare@syr.edu | @nick_a_alvarezlast_img read more