Syracuse’s improved defensive line faces toughest test of season against No. 25 LSU

Syracuse’s improved defensive line faces toughest test of season against No. 25 LSU

first_imgOn the drive after Syracuse took a 24-17 lead against Central Michigan, its defensive line ensured the Chippewas would not score again.Earlier in the second quarter, CMU drove 91 yards in 11 plays to give it a 17-10 lead, and it had been wearing on Syracuse, stringing together short runs and passes for long drives. With SU up a touchdown, Central Michigan quarterback Shane Morris slung an incomplete pass on first down because SU defensive lineman Jonathan Kingsley hurried him. The next play, defensive end Kendall Coleman helped stuff a Chippewas run for a three-yard loss. Finally, Coleman stopped a swing pass for only a three-yard gain. The defense jogged off the field and CMU didn’t score for the rest of the game.“I just don’t think it’s the same defense,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said in the preseason when asked about where his team improved most. “I think our D-line has greatly improved.”The defensive line’s play will be critical for Syracuse (2-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m. in “Death Valley” against No. 25 Louisiana State (2-1) because, to give the Orange any hope of squeaking out an upset, it must stymie a potent Tigers offense. LSU boasts one of the nation’s top rushing attacks — each of its three running backs with double-digit rushes averages at least 5.3 yards per carry. LSU has also only allowed four sacks in three games, one of the NCAA’s best rates, despite returning one starting offensive lineman from last year’s unit.Now, LSU faces its toughest front four this season, per FootballStudyHall.com’s havoc-rate statistic. Improved depth, splitting coaching duties and added experience has helped SU’s defensive line become a disruptive force, ranking 31st in the metric that measures the percentage of plays in which a defense either records a tackle for loss, forces a fumble, or defends a pass.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“The D-Line controls the defense,” Josh Black said. “For example, if there’s a long ball thrown down the field, it’s not the corner’s fault that the wide receiver caught it. It could be primarily the fault of the defensive ends for not getting the efficient pass rush on the quarterback.”The Orange saw Black’s scenario play out during the Sept. 10 upset loss to Middle Tennessee State. SU sacked MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill once for one yard, while he navigated in a mostly clean pocket, from which he hung 269 passing yards on the Orange. Last season, opposing offenses surpassed that passing yardage total seven times as SU struggled to dial up pressure while starting two true freshmen, Kendall Coleman and Black, at defensive end.Now, Coleman leads the unit’s renaissance with a team-high 16 tackles (two for loss) and five run stuffs. In 12 games last season, Syracuse hit the quarterback 15 times. In three games this season, 11 hits. Last year, Coleman said, he tried to know all of the offense’s formations but that ended up making him overthink at the line of scrimmage. Now, he looks more for pre-snap visual keys in one offensive lineman’s alignment or certain tackle splits. Black echoed the advantage familiarity brings, and honing in on what to process rather than trying to process everything.“Last year,” Black said, “we were all really young. … Some of us, we played because we were the only players that could play. We didn’t have enough depth, so we were kind of thrown in there. Right now, we know what we’re doing because we’re mature and we’re growing up and our bodies are more mature also, so we can adapt more to the ACC environment.”Syracuse bolstered its line by dipping into the junior-college recruiting pool, from which it added Brandon Berry, Shaq Grosvenor and quick-burst edge rusher Alton Robinson, a former Texas A&M commit before legal issues prevented him from attending. SU also brought in four freshmen defensive linemen in the Class of 2017. Now, with newfound depth, the Orange shifted Black to defensive tackle, one season after he started all 12 games at defensive end.“It has to do with trying to balance out the areas,” Babers said, “and making sure we have enough players at each position. Enough of a rotation of players that we can get through the schedule we have to play. … We have a lot of ends. There’s one big guy who can go inside, so we did it.”The team also doubled-down on its commitment to teaching the position by splitting the defensive-line job into two positions, defensive ends and defensive tackles, before this season. Steve Stanard, hired in March from Wyoming, came in to specifically coach defensive ends. Vinson Reynolds, who coached the entire defensive line last season, shifted to defensive-tackles coach. The two coach’s biggest points of emphasis for the unit this season, multiple lineman said, has been getting off the ball quicker to generate a rush sooner.The result has been more pressure for a unit that preaches getting into the backfield early and often. Last year, Syracuse allowed opposing offenses to convert 41.4 percent of its third-downs. This season, it’s just 16.3 percent, and even when it lost to MTSU, the Blue Raiders converted just 3-of-12 of those opportunities.“We’re not going to be playing all these snaps in a row this year,” Black said before the season. “We’re going to have fresh legs coming on third down. We’re pursuing all the time downfield.“When you see the D-Linemen downfield trying to catch a receiver, that’s just a culture change we’ve been going through.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on September 22, 2017 at 1:58 pm Contact Sam: [email protected] | @Sam4TRlast_img

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