Ed. Note: I'm going to try and do one of these each Friday during the season. Feel free to let me know how it could be more valuable, though -- always happy to improve!
Syracuse and Central Michigan face off up in Mount Pleasant at noon ET on Saturday. That should both excite and terrify you. But for the purposes of this post, we're going to focus on something that should make you feel positive... probably.
The Orange Front-Seven and its Aggressive Pass-Rush
You guys already know the drill. Syracuse plays a high-risk, high-reward style of defense that prioritizes blitzes from the front-seven in order to make up for our general lack of size/speed in comparison to the more elite teams on our schedule. Against comparable teams (most of the Atlantic division), this works out pretty well. Against better and/or quicker teams (Florida State, Clemson), we usually get burned pretty terribly. Lucky for us, not only is Central Michigan is not quicker than us, AND (bonus), they don't have a mobile quarterback under center. This typically plays into Syracuse's strategy pretty well. At least in theory.
About Central Michigan's Offensive Line...
Things have taken a bit of a dip since former Chippewa offensive tackle Eric Fisher was drafted first overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, as you might have guessed. In 2013, Central Michigan's offensive line allowed 73 tackles for loss and 31 sacks in 12 games; a far cry from 2012 (Fisher's final season), where they allowed just 63 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in 13 games, respectively.
This year's group has size and experience (all juniors and seniors across the line), but so far this year, that hasn't exactly equaled success. Last week against Purdue, the Boilermakers did not show blitz all that much (don't have an official number there, but wouldn't say it happened more than 10 times), and still managed three sacks and six tackles for loss. On the year, against an undersized FCS team in Chattanooga and a GERG-like Purdue team, CMU's already allowed 13 tackles for loss and four sacks. Those numbers don't necessarily sound like a team that's prepared to deal with a constant blitz and pressure, right? And that's not even including the QB hurries Purdue was able to tack on, too.
Syracuse Behind the Line of Scrimmage in 2014
Obviously it's just one game, but Syracuse still managed 10 tackles for loss and four sacks against Villanova, keeping with this team's typical, pressing style from the front-seven. They also faced a larger time of possession and more plays, but point is... they were still able to get penetration. And against a less mobile quarterback than the Wildcats' John Robertson (like, maybe, say CMU's Cooper Rush?), you're going to see those sack numbers go up.
Where things are different this year, versus last year, however, is where the pressure is coming from. Last season, with Marquis Spruill and Jay Bromley toward the middle of the field, sacks and tackles for loss could be easily generated from the center of the defense -- with Spruill (MLB) and Bromley (DT) leading the charge. Now, without both, there's a gap, and you see it in where the pressure -- against both the run and pass -- comes from on a down-to-down basis. Two weeks ago, just three tackles for loss came from the middle, with Marqez Hodge (MLB) and Eric Crume (NT), with one sack (also Hodge) coming from that part of the defense. The rest all came from the outside. Is that a one-game happenstance, or a trend we'll see more of all year? And could that have a negative impact on the defense's ability to generate tackles behind the line? I doubt we'll find the definitive answer this week, but we could be on our way...
So can the Central Michigan offensive line hold up against Syracuse's blitz-happy defense? I'm not too sure. Against a team that failed to blitz much (Purdue), they looked vulnerable, and I'd imagine a consistent pass-rush all game will only serve to wear down the Chippewas' front line. But again, this is no guarantee of success. Just a key matchup for the Orange, and one they'll need to win in order to pull out a second victory this season. I have faith the front-seven can get it done. How about you?