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Syracuse vs. NC State: Defensive breakdown

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The Syracuse Orange continue their downward trend on defense.

North Carolina State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Last weekend the Syracuse Orange once again struggled on defense. Coming into the game the Orange had a simple gameplan defensively: Number one, stop the run, and number two, contain their passing attack.

NC State doesn’t do anything special on offense but they love to motion tight ends and receivers and shift formations to scramble a defense. From a defensive perspective, you just have to adjust to the new formation, make your checks and play. As simple as it sounds, on the field, proper adjustments can be complicated. Players move slower when they’re thinking too much on the field and I think that contributed to the loss last week.

NC State managed to control the ball on offense for nearly the entire game, recording over 40 minutes in Time of Possession and 82 total snaps. That’s a ridiculous number. Over the last few weeks the Orange have struggled to get off of the field on 3rd down and I think a number of things attribute to that. For one, this unit hasn’t helped themselves on 1st and 2nd down. Allowing medium gains on early downs sets the offense up with 3rd and short situations and OC’s are very prepared for those.

Another reason is this defense’s inability to stop the run. Unlike seasons of the past, this Orange defense doesn’t use many blitz packages and relies on their front seven. While Paris Bennett and Zaire Franklin have been tremendous this season reading and reacting, it’s evident the defensive line isn’t at its best yet, still struggling to hold their gaps and contain the outside. With Dalvin Cook coming up next week, the D-Line group will really need a good week of preparation to slow him down.

In the first half, the Orange set the tone on defense early recording a first quarter shutout. But a Zaire Franklin pass interference (a terrible call by the way) swung the momentum and lead NC State to their first score. This game became frustrating to watch because NC State’s offense was getting predictable and still having success. Under center, wherever they motioned a TE, the run followed. In second and long or third and long situations they ran screens. These are just a couple of examples but it’s small details like these that this young defense needs to start picking up on and anticipating. That’s how you take the next step as a defense instead of regressing.

Syracuse’s pass defense wasn’t at their best either, allowing 360 yards through the air. The Orange’s favorite coverage this season seems to be cover 6 (Cover 4 on one side, Cover 2 to the other). While guys are making plays, which is always nice to see, I think the scheme plays back too much right now. Zones seem pretty soft and pass plays are way too effective (15.7 yards per completion this week). This is year one of the new scheme so I expected an adjustment period but there needs to be something to build off of if we want to see improvement in year two. As such an essential part of this defense, if this young DB core can tighten it up on the back-end I think that will be an excellent building block headed into next season.

Some positive notes...like I mentioned earlier this season Rodney Williams is really coming along making plays on the ball. With two redzone interceptions this season he’s doing a great job reading and reacting to the quarterback’s eyes and arm. Opposite him, Daivon Ellison is becoming a player. He’s been an absolute hitter this season and I love his pursuit to the ball. Among the linebackers, Paris Bennett and Zaire Franklin get all of the love, but my fellow Dwyer alum Ted Taylor has steadily put together a solid season as well, often doing the dirty work for this defense setting the edge, spilling blocks and making plays against perimeter screens.

There was plenty left to be desired from this defense and with two big-time opponents left on the schedule, this unit needs to get back to their winning ways quickly.

What else did you see this weekend from this SU defense?