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Defensive Breakdown: Syracuse vs. Clemson

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After a rough outing against Clemson, the Orange have plenty to work on before facing NC State.

Syracuse v Clemson Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images

This week’s defensive performance against Clemson was not unexpected. We knew coming into the game that the Tigers’ offense is among the most explosive in the country and a middling Syracuse team’s best chance at keeping it close was for this defense were to execute on several fronts of the game: create turnovers, get off of the field on third down, prevent the big play, and hope the offense put up points. None of these things happened.

Since Virginia Tech, the Syracuse defense had been putting up excellent numbers in third down efficiency (30 percent), creating turnovers (four total), and preventing chunk plays. But Clemson isn’t Virginia Tech or Boston College. This week, breaking down Syracuse’s effort against the run and pass would best summarize this week effort as we head into a better matchup against NC State.

Pass Defense:

I found it disappointing Syracuse couldn’t create a turnover. Many of Clemson’s passes this week were over the middle and the occasional shot down field was taken just to keep the defense honest. Scoop Bradshaw made a great play on the ball at one point, but it slipped through his hands and landed in another Clemson receiver’s for a large gain. These are the types of plays this defense had to make to give this team a chance.

I talk about big plays often because I know how important they are to a defense, and playing a talented team like Clemson, you cannot give up chunk plays. When an offense can routinely pick up seven, 12, and then 29-yard plays consistently, you’re allowing them to get into a rhythm and comfortable in what they do. That’s how you give up 54 points (though seven were on the offense) on national television.

I hadn’t watched very much Clemson up until this game but I thought the change in their aerial attack was pretty interesting. They still use the run to open it up but their offense uses so much lateral movement, whether that be the zone read or sweeps to the outside, so once a play action is called the middle of the field is wide open. Clemson’s offense does a great job at creating this space. Even against tighter spaces, Watson and his back-ups managed to squeeze the ball through. This is to be expected of a championship-caliber team and I don’t fault Syracuse for failing where many others have as well.

Run Defense:

Syracuse’s front seven had fits trying to run down Watson and Wayne Gallman. Gallman left, Watson right. The zone read and read option was open all game and ultimately lead to a 195-yard rushing performance.

In the perimeter run game, team speed and the O-line’s ability to reach blocks and seal edges are the biggest keys to success. In recent weeks Syracuse had done a great job running down outside plays but this week was a different story. Clemson found regular success running the ball and I think that level of success is more a testament to their ability and scheme than Syracuse’s inability to stop it.

I wouldn’t hit the panic button quite yet. Unfortunately the gameplan Syracuse put together wasn’t executed well and Clemson managed to find their rhythm and tack on the points early and often. A lump we knew was coming, I think we will be able to better evaluate where this team is against a more manageable opponent like NC State. The quest for bowl eligibility is intact and this upcoming Saturday is a must-win for the Orange. Expect Zaire Franklin and the boys to get back to form and get back to their winning ways.