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!
Your 2-0 Syracuse Orange take on the 2-1 Maryland Terrapins at 12:30 p.m. ET at the Carrier Dome --- get excited! While SU dispatched last week's opponent, Central Michigan, rather easily, most observers feel this one will be rather close. How close, however, will likely be dependent on a variety of matchups. We'll focus on this one in particular:
Syracuse's Aggressive Linebackers
The Orange linebackers have been at the heart of this defense and it's blitz-happy scheme since Scott Shafer arrived on campus, and that hasn't changed. But where things may have shifted from last year is that the they're generating pressure from the perimeter now much more so than they did when Marquis Spruill (and DT Jay Bromley) was controlling the middle of the defense. Through two games, they've been an integral part of the pass rush (5.5 sacks, three QB hurries from linebackers so far) and are a constant presence in the backfield overall (eight TFLs total). While Marqez Hodge has filled in very nicely at middle linebacker, it's Cameron Lynch -- the man most responsible for those figures cited above -- who's really come out firing this season, and will single-handedly determine the impact of the entire linebacker corps. The challenge this week will be helping the D-line maintain a constant blitz similar to last week's, without giving away an open field to Maryland's dual-threat QB, C.J. Brown.
C.J. Brown's Outside Speed
Brown is not the same type of runner as Syracuse's Terrel Hunt -- who's a battering ram that saunters down the field just plowing through defenders when he gets a full head of steam. Rather, Brown's a speed guy who has some size (6"3" and 218 pounds) and largely gets his ground yardage on the perimeter. The Terps typically run a read option with him (similar to Syracuse's) and when he's at 100-percent mobility, it's a very tough attack to stop. Flushing him out of the pocket usually results in big gains without at least one player spying to the QB to the outside, and he has some ability to throw on the run. Some criticisms, however, say he can hold onto the ball too long or can be too quick to run -- so if you're looking for some ways to stop him, force him into those types of situations. His accuracy is not always the best, both in the pocket and on the move, so forcing throws in general is a solid tactic.
Maryland's Offensive Line...
The Terps' O-line may seem alright at first, when you just look at sack numbers (only five against through three games). But a lot of that is due to Brown's mobility, and the 20 TFLs they've allowed (nearly seven per game) really tell the full story, along with the seven forced fumbles against them so far. Despite the fact that West Virginia's defense is largely incapable of stopping anyone or anything, the Mountaineers still managed 10 (!!!) TFLs last week in a high-scoring win over Maryland. WVU applies a ton of pressure, sure, but not more than Syracuse. Problem is, that pressure -- while it got them the tackles they wanted behind the line -- also gave Brown a chance to run wild for 161 yards (on 18 attempts).
So it looks like Syracuse has two choices on Saturday -- all-out blitz (like WVU) and hope that you can outscore them while shutting down the passing game and forcing Brown to beat you with his feet. OR blitz four or five and have the linebackers spy/drop into coverage and make Brown beat you through the air instead. Neither strategy is fool-proof, as Maryland's QB has shown himself able to deal with either in spurts throughout his career. But with no real traditional running game to speak of (players other than Brown have run for just 364 yards this year), it's going to come down to the quarterback one way or another. Personally, would prefer we don't put this on the secondary, but given the fact that the Orange have their own troubles with mobile QBs... I don't know. That faith the DBs have in themselves may have to be echoed on our part if we want to make sure we pull this one out.
What do you think? Any other matchup that stands out as integral to Syracuse's success on Saturday?