CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 30: D J Woods #3 of the Cincinnati Bearcats runs with the ball during the Big East Conference game agains the Syracuse Orange at Nippert Stadium on October 30 2010 in Cincinnati Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
No game signified the specific problems with last year's Syracuse defense like the loss to UConn in East Hartford. In the second half the Lyle McCombs and Scott McCummings duo ran the ball up the middle over, and over, and over again, and that was exactly what won them the game. I was not happy, in my post-game write-up:
Our linebackers were atrocious in the second half. McCombs picked up 63 yards on 10 carries in the second half. McCummings had 56 on 10, and almost all of his runs were directly into the heart of our defense. I don't know if I've ever seen a linebacker group bounce off of so many runners. UConn probably ran the most simple offense possible in BCS-level football, and I don't blame them. SU's defense did nothing to stop it. I don't think this is on Shafer either, the players were in position to make plays and just couldn't make the tackles.
If anyone wonders why linebacker coach Dan Conley and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh were let go after the season, UConn is a shining example.
The loss at UConn was a result of the front seven failing to stop the simplest of football plays in a big way. The linebackers deserve much of the blame, as their tackling was poor, but they were also fending off blockers on every play. This is where the defensive line's issues came into frame. Obviously, the most visible impact a defensive line makes in the stat book is rushing the quarterback. However, the best defensive linemen, especially on the interior, are not usually the ones who rack up the most sacks and tackles. They are the ones who take up room and draw the attention of multiple blockers, and deny running backs holes to run through. A big defensive line keeps blockers off of the linebackers, and allows them to become the playmakers. For every 100+ tackle All-American linebacker, there is a defensive tackle to occupies the space in front of him and allows him to roam free.
While Scott Shafer and company are still opting to use smaller, quicker linebackers, there is a whole new breed of Syracuse lineman that will be keeping opposing blockers off of them.
This year's squad features the biggest Syracuse defensive line in recent memory. Let's see how they stack up:
The Syracuse two-deep features ten players split between the four defensive line spots:
Average Height - 75.1" (6'3"+), Average Weight - 287.9 lbs
Let's compare to 2011's defensive line. I chose to feature nine players who saw legitimate game action:
Average Height - 74.8" (6'2"+), Average Weight - 270.3 lbs
While the height has only gone up slightly (we had a fairly tall defensive line already), 16+ pounds per player is pretty significant, especially when you consider that defensive tackle Eric Crume lost nearly 30 pounds from last season. While two of our smaller defensive tackles, Deon Goggins (6'1", 275 lbs) and Jay Bromley (6'4", 293) are still the starters, it is the depth behind them that adds bulk to this unit.
Syracuse should no longer be at a major size disadvantage this season. Let's look at how this year's opponents stack up:
With added size, depth, and experience, I fully expect this year's front seven to be able to compete with just about every team on the schedule.