The old cliché is that defense wins championships. Last year for the Syracuse Orange, the defense helped stabilize and drive a team to its first bowl appearance in six years and first victory in nine.
This season, the defense has not had the same role. In fact, the defense is by far the weaker of the two units, only having one game to date where they played respectably, and their domination went to waste against Rutgers.
When looking at the bend-don’t-break defense, it is important to note that this unit has played through injuries and has had a half a game with senior defensive end Chandler Jones.The effects have been painfully obvious. Therefore, the fairest report to give the Orange is “Needs Improvement” with a treading water level C.
The struggles can be seen within the stats. The Orange has allowed 27.3 points/game. That only looks worse considering that the defense has been shredded for 104.3 yards/game on the ground and another 293 yards/game in the air. Yes, all you mathematicians, that’s a grand average of 397.3 yards/game allowed by the defense.
The defense does possess some bright spots. The first has been freshman Dyshawn Davis. The freshman has been a great surprise, working alongside Marquis Spruill, and has matured game to game. Davis looks like a star in the making, especially with plays like these.
The star of the defense has to be safety Phillip Thomas. Thomas has matured on the field this season as both a leader and an anchor in the struggling secondary. Thomas leads the team with 46 tackles to go along with his team leading three interceptions this year and only looks to improve as the season goes along.
While the defensive line has performed admirably in the absence of Jones, the impact is profound. Mikhail Marinovich has done his best to create pressure, but it is obvious teams can key in on 54 and still adequately protect the quarterback. Jones’ return will be the true indicator on how effective the line will be down the stretch. Hopefully Jones and Marinovich can finally win the trench battles for the Orange and their pitiful 2.2 sack/game average.
As touched upon earlier, the linebacking core has played well this season. Led by Spruill, Dan Vaughan and Davis, the linebackers are the strength of the defense. While their strength is in run stuffing and pass rushing, in several situations they have performed decently in pass coverage. With a healthy secondary, these defensive studs should be turned lose on the backfield of opponents and will create problems.
The obvious weakness of the Syracuse defense is the secondary. They have been dissected for 75 passing first downs, 13 touchdowns, and an insane 12 yards per completion. While all members of the secondary have had their moments, the unit as a whole has only put away Rutgers and Toledo, allowing everyone else to chuck the ball around the field. If Syracuse cannot fix this issue, games against pass happy West Virginia, Cincinnati, and USF could spell doomsday for Syracuse.
Essentially, the defense is not as good as last year. Expecting that is simply unreasonable. However, this defense can become good enough to keep the Orange in games if the issues are addressed this bye before Geno Smith and the rest of the Big East face off against ‘Cuse.