If you could describe 2013's Syracuse secondary in a single statement, what would it be? Probably not "can match up with anybody," if I had to guess. And yet, a season removed from a disastrous effort, cornerback Julian Whigham completely believes it. As he told Syracuse.com's Stephen Bailey:
"We have the speed, we have the ability, we have the talent to match up with anybody. We'll prove that on Saturday."
But do they have those three things -- speed, ability and talent? Ummm... jury's still out on this group, and with the Maryland Terrapins (and talented wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long) coming to town, is this really the right time to be making these sorts of claims?
Overall, I'll admit, the interview's pretty harmless. It's not a bravado-filed rant from Whigham and fellow Orange standout Durell Eskridge, who are the secondary's two best players. Rather, they talk about what went wrong in 2013 in terms of big plays, and describe some of the ways in which they've moved to fix these issues. For what it's worth, Whigham believes extra film sessions are really paying off:
"It makes us faster because we're not thinking about where we need to be. We're not making mental mistakes like last year. It's just showing on the field how much better we've been."
Both players also provide some scouting reports on Maryland, as well as glimpses at how they plan to defend the two most daunting targets to face off with the Orange this season (so far). As Bailey mentions, Whigham will be on the short side of the field, which means he's matched up with Long more often than not. Diggs should see a rotation of different players on him in the slot depending on the package (DBs coach Fred Reed says they'll be using the -- 3-3-5 -- Okie package on shorter third down situations to go along with their other typical looks), which at least attempts to keep him out of rhythm a bit.
For Eskridge, the key is physicality, even if it's put a little too simply:
"Just watching them, I think they don't like to really be touched. So the only thing we've got to do is go out there, put out hands on them and be physical for the whole game; never take a play off and it'll be a long day for them."
Only thing? Can we at least agree that it's one of the things you'll need to do?
So is this group improved from last season? Obviously we don't know just yet because in two games so far, they really haven't had to do much work. Allowing 199 and 183 passing yards to Villanova and Central Michigan, respectively, represents some progress from last year, but they're also opponents that did not possess imposing air attacks either. In the Syracuse.com piece, Bailey mentions that the team allowed six different receivers to top the 100-yard mark last year, while also adding the caveat that SU allowed nearly 246 yards per game through the air. And of course, we all remember what these defensive backs tried to do at the end of the Texas Bowl last year -- even Coach Shafer has admitted things did not look great from that perspective. Though on the positive side, while four different teams topped 250 passing yards against SU last season (including Clemson's 466), just one of those (Florida State) happened in the second half of the year.
Is that progress? Is this secondary actually getting better? We'll find out on Saturday... now let's just hope this whole thing doesn't become bulletin board material.