Greg Paulus, Mike Williams, and Arthur Jones are the three Orange Men that everyone already knows. They are the stars of a team that has been in short supply of big-time talent in recent years.
And yet, there’s one more guy that football fans outside of Syracuse may not know as well, despite being as important to his team’s success as anyone else on the field.
That man is middle linebacker Derrell Smith.
Smith has been Syracuse’s key antagonist to opposing running games, piling up a Big East best with 16 solo tackles and 26 total take downs; ranking second in the conference.
In the Orange victory over Northwestern, Smith had one of his best games as part of the Syracuse football team. In addition to recording 10 tackles and forcing two fumbles, he also terrorized Wildcat quarterback Mike Kafka all day, sacking him twice.
Smith made his presence felt immediately, blindsiding Kafka on Northwestern’s first drive of the game with a hit so hard, the sound could be heard clearly all around the Dome over the sound of 40,000 screaming fans.
The monster hit made Kafka cough up the ball deep in Northwestern territory, which set up Syracuse’s first touchdown of the day and put the Orange up 10-0 early.
Although Smith has proven to be adept at keeping opposing quarterbacks looking over their shoulders, the biggest area in which he and, in turn, the rest of the defense have really looked solid, has been stuffing the run.
Thanks in large part to Smith and the rest of his crew of linebackers, including Doug Hogue, Ryan Gillum, and E.J. Carter, Syracuse has absolutely shut down the running games of their first three opponents.
The Orange defense has yielded only 80.7 rushing yards a game and 2.5 yards per carry so far, making them statistically the third best rushing defense in the Big East. However, those numbers look even better when you consider that the Orange have been stifling the running games of three quality opponents, including Penn State and one of the best backs in the nation, Evan Royster.
The schools currently ranked higher in this category, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, have feasted on such cupcakes as Southeast Missouri State, Youngstown State, and Buffalo.
This is a dramatic turnaround for the Orange, after giving up 5.0 yards a carry last year, they were easily the worst in the Big East. In 2008, Smith started at outside linebacker and was second on the team with 73 tackles.
Head Coach Doug Marrone moved Smith to the middle in an attempt to increase the overall speed of the unit. Smith was a former running back and the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Delaware coming out of high school. He was converted to linebacker by Greg Robinson in 2007.
Speed is a big part of the unit’s new found success. Along with Smith, Doug Hogue is also a converted running back and the currently injured Ryan Gillum is a converted safety.
At 6'1", 236 pounds, Smith combines the strength to shed blockers and the speed to chase down opposing ball carriers.
He’s a dynamic player for the Orange and will merit all-Big East consideration at the end of the year. More importantly though, he’s going to frustrate Big East offenses and help the Orange in their push for their first bowl appearance since 2004.