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Syracuse football: Best of 2022 defense

MOB Awards incoming

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Louisville at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the Syracuse Orange prepare for their Pinstripe Bowl match-up with the Minnesota Golden Gophers we’re going to give our choices for some superlatives for the 2022 season.

Today we look at the Orange defense:

Defensive MVP:

Kevin: Marlowe Wax

I’m going with Wax because he was a constant force throughout the season. He led the Orange with 89 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. If he decides to finish his final season, he could be in line for All-ACC honors.

Dom: Ja’Had Carter

Besides having a momentum-swinging 90-yard fumble recovery returned for a touchdown in Death Valley, Carter finished with three interceptions and 35 tackles on the season. You could argue Mikal Jones should get the nod here, but Carter had some dominant games even as Syracuse’s season took a turn for the worse after the Clemson loss.

Steve: Marlowe Wax

We knew what Mikel and Garrett (pre injuries) were bringing back. We also knew Wax was good coming into the year, but I don’t think him leading the team in tackles, TFLs, hurries, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries was on the bingo card. Wax was an asset that allowed the rest of the defense to play their game.

Most Improved Defender:

Kevin: Kevon Darton

The former walk-on was pushed into a starting role when Terry Lockett went down and Darton held his own. He finished 5th on the Orange with 50 tackles and earned a lot of respect for how he battled all season.

Dom: Derek McDonald

With an early-season injury knocking out starting linebacker Stefon Thompson for the rest of the year, McDonald stepped in and immediately shouldered some big playing time. He finished the year with at least three tackles in all but one game this season (his first against Louisville), one force fumble, and one interception. He wasn’t perfect, but he did prove to be a starting-caliber player with Thompson out.

Steve: The Safeties

Kevin and Dom got the two obvious ones, so I’m going with a cop out. The entire group on the interior of that secondary made a huge step up. In past years, it was a known commodity to run routes coming off the edge and through the middle to get an easy 20 on the Orange defense. This year, Simmons, Barron, Carter and Clark upped their game on coverage as well as needing to be thrust into more run support with the lack of up front run defense.

Best Play:

Kevin: Ja’Had Carter had an excellent season and running this one back at Clemson had to be a great feeling.

Dom: Caleb Okechukwu’s interception in the 4th quarter against Purdue was an absolutely insane play, even with Syracuse needing some penalty luck and a huge throw by Schrader to steal the win at home against the Boilermakers.

Steve: Carter’s scoop and score is the winner for me. The four turnovers forced in that Clemson game kept it close and gave the Orange a chance to take it home. This one was pretty imperative in that effort.

Player to watch in Pinstripe Bowl:

Kevin: Jeremiah Wilson

Wilson was in and out of the transfer portal this week, but with Duce Chestnut leaving, it looks like a starting corner job could be Wilson’s in 2023. It will be interesting to see how he handles himself in the bowl game.

Dom: Caleb Okechukwu

With several key defensive players entering the transfer portal, finding building blocks on defense remains a priority for the Orange moving forward. Based on this past season, Okechukwu could be one of those pieces heading into next season.

Steve: Leon Lowery and Anwar Sparrow

While we know Mikel will be playing in this game, and that Marlowe hasn’t said what is coming or going, I still want to focus on the LBs for next season. They’re a talented young group that should be able to fill in well from what they’ve shown. It will be good to get some focused reps for them as well, even though they did see time as injuries mounted through the year.