The View From Here: The Defense | Syracusefan.com

The View From Here: The Defense

SWC75

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Last year’s minor miracle was produced by the defense, which kept us in games and allowed us to win road games by scores like 13-9, 19-14 and 13-10, the sort of scores that were common in the 1950’s. Actually I kind of liked the old days where most games were reasonably close and more teams could win them. 36-33 games are fun but we have a lot more 50-0 games than we ever used to. But those days are gone and we can’t expect to win many games like that in this era.

We may not be able to win them with this year’s defense, either. Every defensive tackle with any real experience is gone save one. We lost two all-conference linebackers. Both starting cornerbacks are gone. That’s a lot to lose and a lot to replace for a rebuilding program. Not only are the replacements less experienced but in college football, that means they are smaller. So much of football at this level in this age is about building up bodies, not just teaching skills or devising strategies. The starting tackles last year weighed 300 pounds or close to it. The largest likely replacements are Jay Bromley, (273) and junior college transfer Deon Goggins, (272). Also in the mix are Corey Boatman, who is listed at 256 from one source, 281 from another and Robert Welsh, (269). The all-league linebackers were Derrell Smith, (232) and Doug Hogue (226). The third linebacker, Marquis Spruill will move over to replace Smith in the middle. He’s variously listed as 216 or 223. The new outside guys are Dan Vaughn (214) and Dyshawn Davis (206). Behind them are Lewellyn Coker, (218), Siriki Diabate, (218) Olivier Vigille, (207) and Cameron Lynch, (220). Last year, with the 300 pounders and all-league linebackers, we had trouble stopping teams with a veteran line and a power running game. Pittsburgh, Louisville, Connecticut and Boston College all dominated us at home with long, punishing drives. How are we going to do with smaller, less experienced guys in the front seven? Probably not very well- at least against that type of team.

What the new guys have is speed to burn, which is what defensive coordinator Scott Shafer loves. He takes a picture of the end of each play and counts the orange helmets in the picture. He wants at least 6-7. And it can be very effective. I went to the spring game expecting to see that dynamic SU offense I’d seen in the Pinstripe Bowl and which was supposed to be the key to the team this coming year dominate a defense gutted by graduation. Instead, the offense had trouble getting anything going. No matter what play they ran, there were 6-7 orange helmets waiting for them at the point of attack. It was easy to envision over-confident opponents this fall encountering the same problem.

When Coach Mac brought this program back in the 1980’s, we became known for our defense before the offense became a force in it’s own right. Tim Green spent a career in the opponent’s backfield. Ted Gregory dominated the line of scrimmage. Tim Pidgeon became famous for pancaking running backs. Markus Paul and his defensive backfield created not only turnovers but coverage sack after coverage sack. It’s happening again and the keyword is “speed”.

But combine inexperience with speed and you can have problems. Everyone remembers the 1984 Nebraska game. I also recall the 1983 Nebraska game. The coaches, (per what was subsequently written about both games) gave an inspirational speech to the players before they went out to do battle with one of the Cornhusker’s greatest teams. They told the players to “show ’em who you are”. One every play, 11 guys ran to the ball- or where they thought it was. Every single misdirection play broke big and so the did the Huskers, 7-63. The next year the coaches kept the troops calm and poised and stressed staying in lanes and taking care of assignments. They wanted them to play aggressively but smartly as well. This time we won, 17-9. There will be a lot of times when opposing teams this year will have their well-designed plays go nowhere because of SU speed and “run to the ball” attitude. But some plays are going to break wide open, as well. One of those plays is likely to be the “Tight End Throwback”, the favorite play of Paul Pasqualoni and George Deleone, who are now in charge at Connecticut. Ten guys run a play to the right. The tight end makes a block, then drifts to the left, (hopefully) ignored. The quarterback turns back and lofts a pass to him and he jogs into the end zone while P-D have Cheshire cat smiles on the sidelines. You know it’s coming. And against this defense, it will likely work. (Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be delighted if it doesn’t.)

Still, I like Shafer’s aggressive approach. For years, we’ve played “read and cover” defense, (let them run the play and try to get in their way). We once had a reputation for playing rock-ribbed defense and making sure every opponent “knew they were in a game”. But as time passed, we played a very soft defense and opponents found us rather painless to play. Now we are going to make it hard for teams to get plays off and harder for them to make much progress. And if they are wondering if they were in a game, they can just look at the bruises in their bodies afterwards. That’s good football.

And Shafer does have some good weapons to use. The best is end Chandler Jones, an athletic 6-5 265 who will be playing on Sunday for years. He’s the brother of former SU star Arthur Jones, who is now with the Baltimore Ravens. Arthur was a monster of a defensive tackle who dominated the middle of the line, (and personally destroyed Notre Dame in South Bend in G-Rob’s last year). Chandler is sleek and fast and has predicted 30 sacks this year. I’m sure he was kidding but I like his attitude.

While we are poor in experienced tackles, we are rich in ends. Besides Jones we have Mikail Marinovich, (Todd’s bother), who has started the last 25 games, Brandon Sharpe, who spends a lot of time in the other team’s backfield, Torrey (Cannon) Ball and freshman Michah Robinson, who looked like a future star in camp. Marquis Spruill started all 13 games as a freshman and will be a four year starter and “All” candidate before he’s done. The safeties will be Phillip and Shamarko Thomas, both nursing injuries. Phillip, the “leader” of the defense has a broken jaw. Shamarko, a hard hitter, has a concussion, (those practices are something!). Behind them, Orlando Fisher has experience and Jeremi Wilkes a lot of talent. At the corners, Kevyn Scott and Ri’shard Anderson have experience. Keon Lyn is a guy with a world of potential but no luck with injuries. He currently is recovering from a separated shoulder. Freshmen Durell Eskridge and Brandon Reddish will have big careers here.
 

SWC75

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Here are the defensive numbers for the same years I posted for the offense above, including turnover margin:
YEAR 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Rush 116.7 (28) 135.8 (42) 170.2 (73) 171.9 (85) 138.1 (42)
Pass 106.2 (18) 100.1 (14) 108.7 (28) 303.8 (117) 222.1 (62)
Total 301.2 (14) 311.9 (18) 359.2 (46) 475.7 (113) 360.3 (47)
Scoring 22.1 (36) 19.3 (23) 20.3 (26) 33.8 (98) 25.0 (57)
Turnovers -7 (97) -6 (87) +15 (7) +2 (49) +7 (20)
YEAR 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Rush 186.6 (86) 187.3 (97) 185.1 (110) 207.8 (108) 189.4 (101)
Pass 240.1 (90) 185.4 (21) 214.2 (76) 260.9 (102) 225.1 (83)
Total 426.8 (100) 372.7 (57) 399.3 (107) 468.7 (111) 414.5 (101)
Scoring 28.6 (76) 26.8 (67) 24.6 (72) 4.8 (104) 32.7 (101)
Turnovers +2 (51) -4 (82) +11 (7) -6 (96) -1 (67)
YEAR 2009 2010
Rush 101.80 (13) 136.2 (41)
Pass 235.2 (85) 165.3 (7)
Total 337.0 (37) 301.5 (7)
Scoring 27.9 (81) 19.3 (17)
Turnovers -6 (97) -4 (75)

The 2000 team outgained the opposition by an average of 66 yards per game and went 6-5. The 2001 team was outgained by 30 yards per game and went 10-3. Why? Because with a healthy Dwight Freeney, we went from -6 in turnover margin to +15. That, along with the problems stopping a power running game is one of two complaints, (the only two) about Scott Shafer’s defense. For all their aggressiveness, they haven’t generated a lot of turnovers. We are -6 and -4 the last two years. With a limited offense, not creating turnovers is a serious deficiency. Since aggression normally does produce turnovers, I think this is an anomaly. We are due for a big year in this regard and with a veteran offense, we should have a + turnover margin, maybe not +15 but it should be good.

The defense isn’t going to fall apart, despite the graduation losses and injuries. At times they will look very impressive. But I don’t think they can be relied upon to carry the team, as they did last year.
 

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