Syracuse Orange Sophomore Zaire Franklin is the leader of a young defense, which many are expecting to take a step back in 2015. After losing 8 starters, that expectation seems reasonable, but don't tell that to Franklin. Here's what he had to say to Syracuse.com's Chris Carlson,
"We want to improve on what we did last year," Franklin said. "That's all we can ask. Even though we had a lot of turnover, we have a lot of guys stepping up and working hard. We want to be better than last year."
Improving upon the 27th-ranked total defense in the country in 2014 would be difficult under normal circumstances, but Syracuse is returning only 29.3% of their tackles from last season, the lowest in college football over the last six years.How could Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough get his unit to be better in 2015? Well, here are some ways that I think Syracuse could be better than last year (All statistics from cfbstats.com):
3rd Down Defense
- Last year the Orange allowed opponents to convert on 39.66% of their 3rd down conversions, which ranked 63rd in the country. In home games, that number rose to 43.62%, largely due to Villanova converted on 12 of 20 opportunities in the 2014 opener. Improving on this number can get the young Syracuse defense off the field and help to avoid the defense wearing down later in games.
Getting to the Quarterback
- Syracuse finished 61st in the country in sacks last year with 27 in 12 games, but a deeper look shows that in ACC conference games, Syracuse only managed 14 sacks. In a league with some very good QB's, getting more pressure is going to help the young secondary, and also put teams in longer down and distance situations, which is where Syracuse's blitz pressure can really take hold.
- In 6 home games in 2014, Syracuse managed only 5 turnovers while giving the ball to the opponent 12 times. This is probably the area where the Orange can make the biggest step forward in 2015. While the defense can't control what the Orange offense does with the ball, creating more turnovers at home where the sudden possession change can spark the home crowd will be crucial.
Red Zone Defense
- Like turnovers, the Syracuse defense was worse at home in 2014 when it came to keeping opponents off the scoreboard once they entered the red zone. Orange opponents scored on 86.36% on their trips inside the 20 when in the Dome, and on 66.67% when Syracuse was the road team. Getting sacks and creating turnovers can help this statistic improve in 2015, and it must if Syracuse is going to win more games in 2015.
Some of the home/road splits can be explained because Florida State, Notre Dame and Duke came to Syracuse last year, while the Orange faced weaker offensive teams like Wake and BC on the road. What areas on the defensive side of the ball do you hope to see in 2015?