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Syracuse Football: Scott Shafer Defenses vs. Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

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Syracuse faces another mobile quarterback on Saturday, in Everett Golson... we look at recent history against similar passers.

Michael Hickey

By now, you know the drill. Every time Syracuse lines up against a mobile quarterback in the last few years, Orange fans go and press the panic button. Because for some reason, in our minds, every one of these games ends in disaster and despair for the team, despite lining up against their own mobile QB (Terrel Hunt) in practice for the past year. But are those feelings truly warranted?

I figured the best place to start looking for evidence was Scott Shafer's arrival on campus in 2009, since that provides us with at least some consistency by which to judge the SU defense. Of note, I also eliminated a few quarterbacks who at times were mobile and at others were not throughout their carriers, notably: Wake Forest's Tanner Price, Clemson's Tajh Boyd and West Virginia's Geno Smith. This seemed to paint a more accurate overall picture of how SU did against dual-threats.

So the results, for you:

Year W/L Opponent Quarterback Rush Yards TD
2014 L Maryland C.J. Brown 25 1
2014 W Villanova John Robertson 115 0
2013 L at Northwestern Kain Colter 87 1
2013 L at Florida State Jameis Winston -12 0
2013 L at Georgia Tech Vad Lee 72 2
2013 W at Maryland C.J. Brown 5 0
2012 L Northwestern Kain Colter 40 1
2012 W at USF B.J. Daniels 134 0
2012 L at Cincinnati Munchie Legaux 39 0
2012 W at Temple Clinton Granger 61 1
2011 W Rhode Island Steve Robst 46 0
2011 W Toledo Austin Dantin 42 0
2011 L Cincinnati Munchie Legaux 11 0
2011 L USF B.J. Daniels 117 1
2010 L at Washington Jake Locker 12 0
2010 W Colgate Greg Sullivan 53 0
2010 W at USF B.J. Daniels -1 0
2010 W at Cincinnati Chazz Anderson 66 0
2010 W Kansas State* Carson Coffman 26 0
2009 L USF B.J. Daniels 32 0

For those scoring at home, that's a 10-10 record, and one that actually started with four wins in five games. Things went south afterward, obviously. Some additional notes:

  • Syracuse has faced 14 different mobile/dual-threat quarterbacks under Shafer, including USF's B.J. Daniels four times.
  • In 20 games, these players ran for 970 yards (48.5 yards/game) and seven touchdowns.
  • Most of these wins are against some bad/underwhelming teams...

That last one's the most startling, I think. In general, good teams with dual-threat QBs have been successful against Syracuse, even if it wasn't by way of their legs. See last week as case and point, with other references like last year's loss to Florida State and 2012's loss to Cincinnati as some supporting evidence. Despite not killing us on the ground in those games, the teams' mobile passers used our focus on their running to shred us through the air. C.J. Brown just did it last week, and that sets up a decent blueprint for a much more talented team, Notre Dame, to follow this Saturday. As you probably figured, Everett Golson is a much better quarterback than Brown. Worse still for Syracuse: Golson's a much better passer, too.

In this morning's Q&A piece with One Foot Down, I asked the following question (and got the response below):

"Everett Golson gets a lot of credit for his mobility, but I actually think his true value comes from his arm. Do you agree?

I agree 100%. He was a pass-first threat in high school and has developed much the same at ND. That being said, there have been some struggles in the running game that many believe could be eased if Brian Kelly loosened the reins on Everett Golson to keep on read options, etc. It’s very helpful to have that ability there if the time arises, but like you said, he’s a pass-first guy. Watch when he scrambles on Saturday – you’ll notice he’s always looking downfield to make a play with his arm. He doesn’t tuck the ball and take off like many other mobile QBs."

... And therein lies perhaps the biggest problem for SU on Saturday. Unlike a lot of the other quarterbacks on the list, Golson is pass-first yet CAN beat us with his legs if called upon. This is a lot like what we see from FSU's Jameis Winston and (to a lesser extendt0 former Clemson QB Tajh Boyd. It's not what we saw from Brown last week, and he still burned us. So what's the problem? Speed.

Stepping up in conference affiliation, Syracuse knew there would be some challenges, and we're still dealing with those. But the biggest one -- and the toughest one for us to correct right away -- is speed, or the Orange's lack thereof. Look at the last two season's-worth of games against mobile passers and you see a 2-4 record, with just one win against a power conference team (last year's W at Maryland). These teams are faster than we are. And until that changes, or at least that advantage decreases, we're behind the eight-ball in these matchups. Different schemes can help. We've seen some success with the "Okie" package here and there, but our defense just isn't ready for what's coming at them when a mobile passer is lined up against them... right now.

Obviously we're changing things within the program and looking to upgrade our personnel to better fit those needs. And with those changes we'll find less struggles in this department. I mean, look at the players coming in the door at linebacker alone. Jonathan Thomas runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. Our new corners and safeties are mostly out of the Miami and Atlanta areas, and all very fast. We're making strides. But we're not there yet. So in the meantime, it comes down to using packages to make up for personnel deficiencies.

***

Does this all mean we're doomed on Saturday? Not in the slightest. Despite some challenges against Maryland, the defense did play well in the second half and the Orange were some stalled drives away from being right in that game. That sounds like at least a little progress. And again, there's no discounting that SU blitz, which has terrorized many-a-QB since Shafer arrived on campus (HI, GENO SMITH!!!). So while facing off with a quarterback like Golson is a challenge based on recent results, know that we are turning the corner -- gradually. Here's to hoping we make even more progress on that this weekend, and the team picks up its first big win over a mobile QB in the ACC era on Saturday.