The No. 1 question I’ve been asked while contributing to TNIAAM or anywhere else is: “How hard it is when you have to criticize guys you played with, aren’t they your friends?” I usually respond with a laugh and a shrug. But in reality, it’s difficult.
The majority of my former teammates have unfollowed me on social media platforms — understandable, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, as an athlete, to keep your nose out of the papers. But still, it’s an uneasy feeling. The few I see around campus who are still comfortable around me say things like “I heard you’re on the other side now.” Maybe, but I deny that. I like to think I’m telling their stories, forwarding their messages and giving them a comfortable forum to do so.
I know players, coaches, and even members of the academic staff read these breakdowns. To the players, guys I know personally — you drive the content. When you ball, I can gas y’all up. When you give up more than 1,400 yards of offense over the course of two games, we need to have a discussion. To people like Mike Morrison, Sue Edson and my old academic counselors or whoever else who talks to me about what I say, I promise I love Syracuse I want this program to figure it out, just like everyone else.
That being, said let’s talk about this Syracuse Orange defense...
By the end of last Saturday’s defensive performance vs. the Louisville Cardinals, effort came into question. Missed tackles, and a lack of execution contributed to more than 700 yards for the second week in a row. It was unwatchable. The third quarter touchdown run by Lamar Jackson was inexcusable. Johnathan Thomas is a much better tackler than that. He never ducks his head and tackles with authority when he lines up a target. On the play, Thomas tucked his chin and gave Jackson an arm to run through and score. Since little league your taught to keep your eyes up, have vision. That’s inexcusable, but just an example. No one defensively played to their ability level.
Yesterday was the first time this season I got a chance to run down to Manley and talk to some guys. I spoke with Rodney Williams about the defense and what exactly has been the problem this week and what this defense is looking forward to this week against Boston College.
Q: Over 1,400 yards given up in the last two weeks by this defense, how does the unit get back to being the one we saw in the first half of the season and what we saw against Clemson?
A: Just getting back to the basics. I think we got out executed against Wake Forest and this week it was just tough trying to defend against 6 skill players rather than 5 — the sixth player being one of the best in the country.
The sixth man obviously being Lamar Jackson, it’s difficult to create a defense that can account for that much offensive firepower. Nickel and dime defenses are usually spread across the field and athletes in space are almost impossible to defend in the ACC. There’s so much speed and agility in the conference — add a Heisman trophy quarterback to the mix doing it with his arm and his legs, you almost have to ask your offense to keep putting up points to give yourself a chance.
Q: A bowl game is out of the question, unfortunately — how do you keep guys motivated going into this last week of practice?
A: I think it may be a tough deal for some players, this may be their last football game that they’re a part of — though, some have a shot at the next level. But for me in particular, this is my class. It’s easier for me to go out there with intensity to get them to leave on a good note. We won’t make a bowl game but we will be in the Dome. Just coming in with guys like Erv (Ervin Philips), Parris (Bennett), Zaire (Franklin). Understanding how much work they’ve put in over the years to help turn this program around. It’s something that they deserve. They deserve to go out on the right note.
Q: What’s the biggest goal for this secondary in this last week? It’s been a rough outing against two talented quarterbacks. How are you guys going to get back on track?
A: It starts in practice and with preparation. We had a really good nine weeks. Boston College doesn’t pass the ball a lot as you know. But we just have to stay locked in on our man because they’ll run the ball ten times in a row and then take a shot deep so just staying focused and keeping your eyes on your man and keeping the right mindset. If we get a lead on them, we should be able to take away that aspect (the passing game) if it turns into that kind of game.
I think Rodney was spot-on throughout the conversation and very insightful. Defensively, this team has gotten away from the things that made them successful. The easiest way to get back to being yourself as a football team is to get back to the basics. Simplifying the gameplan and developing it from there. Boston College is a run-first football team and Rodney is right, if you get a lead on BC and force them to throw the football, the secondary will have an opportunity. It’ll then be up to them to make a difference on this game.
The last few weeks have been difficult to watch but BC week will certainly be an opportunity for the Orange to send its seniors off the right way and have something positive to build off of heading into 2018.