Six seconds into Saturday’s game, the Syracuse Orange defense found itself on its own goal line trying to prevent a score. LSU Tigers running back, Derrius Guise punched the ball in on the next play and all of a sudden Syracuse was down 7-0.
Situations like this one often spark a rally in response to the gut check challenging mental fortitude and the one’s will to fight back against a superior opponent. In just six seconds, a defense without an identity was forced to ask themselves, “Who are we?”
Syracuse’s defensive line is having a phenomenal season. Plagued by injury and youth a year ago, the D-Line is out to prove themselves returning this season with size, strength and maturity. What stands out is now how they’ve used the development process to improve gap integrity, technique and explosiveness off the ball.
“We allowed too much penetration. Danny (Etling) was under duress the whole night. Without watching the film, I’d say that the Syracuse defensive line won,” said LSU head coach Ed Orgeron afterward.
At the end of the first half, Syracuse held LSU to just 54 yards on the ground. The stunts and games Syracuse’s defensive line was able to emply aided their pass rush while their power and acceleration at the snap of the football helped make them a force defending the run. The help they received from standout linebackers Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett puts this front seven over the top.
Bennett played out of his mind, recording 12 tackles, eight solo, three TFLs and one safety on his way to ACC Linebacker of the Week honors.
"Parris is extremely athletic and I think he's getting a chance to showcase it -- not in better ways, but in a variety of ways," said Franklin.
Defensive coordinator Brian Ward unleashed his linebackers and put together the perfect gameplan to neutralize LSU’s offensive firepower. The plan was effective because it allowed linebackers to operate in a space that draws from the strengths and be one of the most dominant cores in the ACC.
To be effective going forward, Syracuse may want to consider continued use of their pressure packages and utilizing the talent they have at this position.
The deep balls killed what was largely a great performance by the secondary. Safeties Rodney Williams and Jordan Martin have done an excellent job filling in for Antwan Cordy and SU’s cornerback play has improved from recent memory. In two games this secondary has intercepted three passes and pacing themselves for an excellent season taking the ball away.
Defending passes they shouldn’t is the next step for this group. On the first deep touchdown, LSU ran a levels route combination against single safety high, man coverage, drawing the low-dropping safety down towards the tight-end and opening up the inside post route. It was the perfect call and a great and catch between quarterback and receiver. In this situation, the offensive playcall was superior and tackling it down was Syracuse’s only option.
When this secondary gets really good, the corner will be attached the hip of the receiver and be able to jar it loose. To get there, continuing to emphasize and exercise technique, eyes and patience will be key. NC State will be a great barometer for how much this group learned from last week’s mistakes.
What did you see from this SU defense?