Breaking SU’s defensive performance against Clemson



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Before Syracuse’s game against Clemson, his players had to answer a simple question about the unranked Tigers – is Clemson still Clemson?

“Of course they’re still Clemson,” linebacker Marlowe Wax said three days before the game.

Wax said the Tigers still have some of the best players in the country, including 5-star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. Although Clemson dropped out of the Associated Press top 25 for the first time since 2014, the Orange had to plan their game against Uiagalelei: they wanted to make him ‘uncomfortable’, defensive lineman Cody said. Roscoe.

After allowing an average of 38.3 points against Clemson over the past three seasons, the Orange limited the Tigers to 17 in Friday’s game. SU achieved their goal of putting pressure on Uiagalelei, as Clemson converted just five of 15 third downs.

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Here are the main defensive plays, despite Syracuse’s 17-14 loss to Clemson:

Early success

With a third and a 12 and five receivers on the pitch, Clemson’s offense makes it pretty clear that they want to throw the ball away for a first try. Still, the Orange sends five rushers to the defensive line, hoping to win the battle on the scrimmage line instead of covering the pass.

“Our D-line room up front is one of the best guys in the business,” said Roscoe. “It doesn’t matter who we play… we have to be ready to play.”

After arriving in Syracuse last season after three years at the McNeese State School of Football Championship Subdivision, Roscoe has the most Atlantic Coast Conference sacks at 7.5. At the start of this game, he takes an easy approach – with linebacker Stefon Thompson – coming out of the opposing player in front of them.

While Thompson can’t break free, Roscoe keeps his hands raised like a boxer, pushing the hands of Clemson right guard Reed Morrissey aside from his padding. As Roscoe moves closer to Uiagalelei, defensive lineman Steve Linton uses a stunt to break free in the middle of the pocket. Linton’s success causes Uiagalelei to shift slightly to the left, allowing Roscoe to defeat the quarterback.

The best way to stop one of the best teams in the ACC is to attack it early and create a constant pressure expectation. Roscoe and Syracuse do just that in the first defensive practice, setting up a game filled with solid 3-3-5 system play from defensive coordinator Tony White.

You’ve Mossed

In ESPN’s NFL Sunday Countdown, Randy Moss, the NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver, reviews the best catches from wide receivers against tight cover. The segment is called “You Got Mossed”, inspired by Moss’ ability to make unimaginable catches despite good defense.

The morning after the game, Syracuse defensive back Duce Chestnut did so on television. And yes, it was not him who made the capture.

With a scoreless game in the second quarter, Clemson’s Joe Ngata charged down the straight from the 20-yard line. Chestnut, at 6 feet flat, is man-to-man blanket against the 6-foot-3 receiver. Uiagalelei delivers a rocket that passed over Chestnut and into Ngata’s hands for the night’s first score.

But this match shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Against Clemson, Syracuse knew their staff were not on par with some of the 4 and 5 star athletes that make up the Tigers squad. Chestnut, a 3-star rookie, is no match here against Ngata, a 4-star, man-to-man blanket.

If the Orange wants a fair battle against top teams, they need to beat them strategically, not with personnel. Leaving cornerbacks on an island leads to plays like this, putting SU defensive backs on the wrong side of a strip of highlights. Moving to an area would have benefited Syracuse immensely, allowing her to make up for what she doesn’t have in athletics.

After cornerback Garrett Williams got run over on a successful mock punt attempt by Clemson Davis Allen’s tight end, Uiagalelei again went high to a receiver in the red zone. Syracuse sends only four rushers, allowing Mikel Jones and Wax to go on cover. In doing so, the Orange put their trust in their pass coverage, giving Uiagalelei plenty of pocket time before they land their final strike.

Even further in the 3-3-5, Syracuse has defensive backs Ja’Had Carter and Rob Hanna in the guards. Carter is directly behind Wax and Hanna is behind Jones, every pair on every hash of the pitch. This leaves the center of the field wide open between the second and third levels of defense.

As that hole opens up in midfield, Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross steps outside, cutting through the vacant pocket ahead of the end zone. Uiagalelei throws the ball at Ross extremely high, starting an athletic battle between Ross and Carter. Clemson’s team wins again, leading to another touchdown a game later.

Correction of previous errors

Throughout the first three quarters, Clemson was able to get an easy distance by pushing Uiagalelei back as if he was going to throw, but instead he took off and ran once the blockers were placed. On some of those games, the Tigers even teamed up with Jones, knowing that if anyone were to play SU it would be him.

“We did a pretty decent job,” Roscoe said. “Sometimes he got out of his pocket and he broke a few runs. There were things that were on us.

With a third and a 6 in the fourth quarter, Syracuse sent six rushers to the line of scrimmage, signaling he wanted to put as much pressure as possible on Uiagalelei during one of the game’s most pivotal moments. Orange do this expecting a pass from Uiagalelei, but when the quarterback takes off it somehow works to their advantage.

Jones was the only linebacker who didn’t act as a defensive lineman, staying at second tier in the middle of defense. This configuration allowed him to see everything unfold from a distance before launching a first strike. Once Uiagalelei runs, Jones moves to the left, staying in line with the quarterback.

Allen tries to block Jones, but he can’t shake him to conclude Uiagalelei. As Jones brings the quarterback onto the field, the rest of the defense chase the ball, making sure the Tigers have to settle for a basket.

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Contact Anish: [email protected]


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