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Defensive breakdown: Syracuse vs. Florida State

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You can’t just let (bad) offenses throw points up on you that easily...

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

First half struggles have marred the Syracuse Orange all football season. Defensively, last week’s outing against the Florida State Seminoles was no different. Forget the fourth down decision not to kick the field goal, the Orange spotted one of the worst offenses in college football 21 points in one half — each score from 50 yards out or more. It’s hard to win games like that. But let’s talk about it.

51-Yard TD Pass

Entering the game, Florida State quarterback, James Blackman had the lowest QBR of any starting quarterback in the ACC, had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and had taken more sacks than any quarterback not named Eric Dungey. All season, he has been hit, pressured and sacked. Yet on the second pass attempt of the game, the Orange allow a 51-yard touchdown pass to a struggling freshman quarterback.

Against a desperate football team, that can’t happen. The play opened up the flood gates and for the first time all season, Florida State looked like themselves.

In detail, Syracuse was in a true Tampa-2 coverage. The middle linebacker took a deep middle-of-the- field (MOF) drop and two high safeties played their halves.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

I’m assuming Coach Ward doesn’t ask his linebackers to cover 50 yards down field, so Rodney Williams was the safety responsible in this scenario. A note on Williams by the way — the kid is the smartest athletes in SU’s secondary. His mind is an asset on the field and helps him anticipate plays. His TFL against Clemson a few weeks back is evidence of that.

In this situation, he had a two-to-one read where the safety is asked to lean closer to the slot receiver because it’s an easier throw and catch. If the safety plays over the seam route tight enough, rather than the outside fade, the quarterback will either eat the ball or take a shot to the outside receiver — as a safety that’s when you have an opportunity to show off your range to NFL scouts and make a play.

Williams gave too much leverage to the inside slot receiver the ball was thrown well and he couldn’t react to it in time. Touchdown.

54-yard touchdown run

This play was lost at the line of scrimmage. It’s hard to ask an All-ACC linebacker for more, but a missed tackle from Parris Bennett sprung this play and then Cam Akers did an excellent job getting into the endzone. He’s certainly a talent. Bennett has a downhill nature at linebacker, usually always on his toes ready to accelerate. But on this play, Bennett comes up flat footed against a quicker athlete in a one-on-one situation. Beyond Bennett, there was no help. No inside presence. A defensive breakdown on a run play is never one guys fault.

64-yard touchdown run

An uncalled holding sprung this play. Moving on.


The first half mistakes both offensively and defensively over the last few weeks have been troubling because they seem to be the result of both over aggression and lackadaisical play. I believe this is a direct result of the Clemson win. Three weeks ago we saw a focused Orange football team. Much like a boxer working his strategy, placing punches throughout each round, the Orange executed each play methodically, quarter by quarter and in the process, broke down their opponent.

Syracuse tasted victory and now we’re seeing them swing for knockouts while leaving themselves open for counters. Five interceptions in two games on offense, and the defense allowing three touchdowns of 50-plus yards as evidence. Heading into an even matchup with Wake Forest the Orange have an excellent opportunity to get back to the team they showed us to be against Clemson.