Defending a mobile quarterback at the college level is a defensive nightmare. That’s why the best are virtually impossible to stop; mobility has canonized names like Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel and now, Lamar Jackson.
The mobile quarterback is such a difficult assignment to guard because you can’t gameplan for him. He’s one cut, missed read or broken tackle away from racing down the field and his ability to keep plays alive and push the ball vertically is indefensible because there’s no coverage for that.
Of the four great mobile quarterbacks mentioned, Jackson has had the least amount talent around him — translating into more losses and an easier formula to (theoretically) defeat him. I say “potentially” because that’s far from guaranteed for the Syracuse Orange on Saturday, even if they mimic all of these things.
The Louisville Cardinals are currently 6-4 (3-4 ACC). In those four losses, I pulled four keys from each:
Clemson: 3rd Down Efficiency
The Cardinals didn’t convert a third down in the game’s first half and converted just five the entire game. Jackson threw his first pick-six of his career and Clemson’s defensive line took over the game. Syracuse doesn’t have Clemson’s talent along the defensive line, but they do have one of the best 3rd down defenses in the country.
NC State: QB Pressure
The Wolfpack didn’t stop Jackson, but they got after him recording four sacks and several QB hurries. Having an All-American at defensive end helps. Syracuse doesn’t have an All-American defensive end and are one the least productive teams in terms of tackling, ranking near the bottom of the ACC in TFLs and sacks. Part of that is the defensive scheme. But when the Orange do decide to dial up the blitz, it’s been successful -- think LSU or Pitt. In those games Syracuse recorded a total of five sacks and 11 TFLs. Not gaudy, but certainly effective.
Boston College: Offensive Efficiency
It’s true, sometimes the best defense is a great offense. Lamar Jackson gave the Eagles’ defense fits but BC’s offense ended up being the deciding factor. Boston College rushed for 364 yards on 59 carries, absolutely abusing the Cardinal’s defense. At 6.2 yards per carry BC was able to dictate the pace of the game. Combine the offensive effort with a stellar third quarter defensive performance where the Eagles forced two three-and-outs and an interception, the Eagles found a way to separate themselves and win the game.
Wake Forest: Sacks
Jackson missed one drive in this game but four out of five drives that resulted in a punt included a QB sack by Wake Forest. The Deamon Deacons scored 14 points off two of those dead drives in return. Like NC State, Wake Forest got after Jackson and when they got the ball back, like BC, they took advantage and scored. Syracuse has lost games by kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns (reference: MTSU and Miami). If the Orange find themselves getting after Jackson defensively, they must take advantage and score touchdowns.
I’ve been asked to outline a way to defend Lamar Jackson, or specifically for Syracuse to defend him. Admittedly, if I had the ability to do such a thing, I’d be an assistant coach at Alabama.
The honest answer is there is no way to stop him. Like Coach Babers said, Jackson is “going to get his.” Even in his losses, Jackson averages 300 yards passing and 100 rushing. The key this week for the Orange is winning everywhere else. Defeating Louisville’s offensive line and getting pressure like NC State and Clemson. Being efficient offensively like BC and Wake.
How does Syracuse do this with their own personnel?
Get creative defensively.
Defensive coordinator Brian Ward has done an excellent job this season creating original gameplans. Remember LSU week when Babers said “We don’t have the left tackle or the running back to do what MSU did.”? Despite that, the football staff found a way to be competitive. If you had a list going, this should be your No. 1 reason to like this staff: They find a way to be in games.
The Xs and Os
For the sake of discussion, I think the Orange need to come out aggressive. Blitz. Bring a linebacker one play, a safety the next. Mix it up and don’t let No. 8 get comfortable. I’m not suggesting this because I spent my college career in a defense run by Scott Shafer, but because pressure seems to be Louisville’s heel. Their offensive line is one of the worst in the ACC, allowing 26 sacks on the year. And given how teams have capitalized on this fact by being aggressive, I think it would be smart for the Orange to follow the trend.
Speed on offense is key
The offense needs to come out fast. If Eric Dungey plays, excellent. If he doesn’t, fine. Zack Mahoney’s proven he can give this team plenty of production and get everyone involved. The Orange can’t afford to play second half football this week. In each of Louisville’s losses, the winning team found a way to continue to put up points while defensively finding a way to get a stop and then capitalizing on the lost possession.
A bowl game is still within reach, but it’ll require the team we saw just over a month ago vs. Clemson to get the job done. Four quarters of football and a eye for detail rather than trying for the knockout. Consistency rather than occasion. Most importantly and hopefully, this team makes it about themselves instead of the quarterback across from them.