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Syracuse’s struggles in the defensive backfield lead to big plays for opponents

September 16, 2020

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on October 17, 2018 at 11:22 pm Contact Andrew: aegraham@syr.edu | @A_E_Graham In six games, the Syracuse defense has given up touchdown runs of 75, 69 and 64 yards.Those explosive runs are indicative of run-defense issues that reach beyond the front seven players. After breaking through the line of scrimmage, ball carriers have consistently beaten out of position safeties and slipped out of weak tackles.“When the ball breaks to the secondary,” head coach Dino Babers said after SU’s loss to Pittsburgh, “we need DBs and we need safeties to make tackles. Just get ‘em down. Just get ‘em down.”Syracuse’s (4-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) defensive backs, the last line of resistance on the field, have struggled against the run, similar to the rest of its 91st-ranked rushing defense. Cornerbacks have been eliminated from plays by good blocking, and bad angles to the football often hinder safeties.When North Carolina (1-4, 1-2) comes to the Carrier Dome on Saturday, it brings the No. 49 rushing offense in the country, in terms of yards per game. Two weeks ago, SU gave up 265 yards to Pitt, the No. 48 rushing offense, in a loss. SU needs to defend the run better than it has, and part of that recipe includes defensive backs saving touchdowns.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textLaura Angle | Digital Design EditorThe errors on the back end of SU’s defense often manifest as big plays. In Week 1, Western Michigan’s LeVante Bellamy ran for 120 yards, 95 of which came on two plays.In the third quarter, as the Broncos closed down a 34-7 halftime deficit, Bellamy took a handoff from his own 36-yard line, while Evan Foster, lined up as the single-high safety, took one step back before recognizing the handoff and broke toward the line of scrimmage. Bursting through the open hole, Bellamy approached Foster, who overran Bellamy, allowing him to slip past Foster and sprint to the endzone.“It was still my play to make,” Foster said after the game. “I almost had him. But just not quite.”Freshman Andre Cisco, Foster’s main counterpart at safety, could’ve made a play on Pitt’s Qadree Ollison on Oct. 6. Instead, Ollison ran 69 yards to the end zone.Again in a single-high safety look, Cisco served as the centerfielder for SU’s defense. While Ollison took a handoff to his left and followed blocks outside the original hole, Cisco crashed to the interior, running himself out of the play.Even when Syracuse’s defensive backs aren’t out of position from bad angles, getting the ball carrier to the ground isn’t a guarantee.Against Connecticut, dual-threat quarterback David Pindell and running back Kevin Mensah bounced off second-level tacklers until a group of Syracuse defenders pulled them to the ground. On a 2nd-and-11 draw play late in the first quarter, Mensah survived two attempted big hits — from safety Eric Coley and Cisco — for a 10-yard gain.In a 51-21 blowout, though, the missed tackles, like big plays previously given up in wins, were footnotes.In back-to-back losses to then-No. 3 Clemson and Pittsburgh, the lack of tackling was more costly. Tigers’ running back Travis Etienne blasted SU for 203 yards, a career-high. After a narrow loss, the talk postgame and in the ensuing week centered around better tackling and an improved run defense.After 299 net yards from Pittsburgh’s top-two running backs the following Saturday, the conversation hadn’t changed much.“Obviously we didn’t stop the run,” cornerback Chris Fredrick said in the tunnel of Heinz Field. “So that’s what stood out to me.”He continued, echoing the rudimentary instructions from Babers: “Tackle the guy, stick, grab cloth, wrap up, that type of thing.”Whether it’s been poor angles or missed tackles, SU’s defensive backs haven’t played up to snuff when defending the run. But the fact they have to do it so much speaks to an even bigger issue.center_img Commentslast_img

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