The man who predicted 30 sacks in the offseason had some catching up to do against West Virginia. He may not reach that goal, but Syracuse fans will let him off the hook. Chandler Jones returned to the field for SU’s dominating 49-23 victory over the Mountaineers and made an immediate difference on a hungry Orange defensive unit that wiped the turf with Geno Smith.
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Jones had 6 tackles, 2 sacks and drove Smith out of the pocket numerous times, forcing him to make uncomfortable throws all night. It was a relief to see #99 back on the field, who said it “felt great” to return, but gave all the credit to his defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer.
“Our team as a whole (played well). Coach Shafer did a great job of knowing when to call a blitz and when to sit back. Congratulations to Coach Shafer, he put a great game plan together.”
Shafer called for blitzes early and often, and his defense got to Smith at the right times. When the Orange led 21-9 late in the 2nd quarter (and the upset was still just a distant dream) West Virginia was driving, looking to cut the deficit. Jones stifled their charge downfield with back-to-back sacks, one of which coming on a just a three man rush from SU. Jones, who looked as motivated as ever, was able to get around the edge with ease. He was locked in on Smith all night, and was waiting for this matchup for weeks.
“I knew I was going to make the West Virginia game. So I have been scouting (Smith) since then. We just game planned and got a lot of pressure on Geno, so I am psyched for that.”
The WVU attack was not used to this sort of pressure, and Shafer knew it. SU sacked Smith four times, only one less than in his previous four games. This forced him to throw two bad interceptions, one into a pack of four Orange defenders late in the first half, the other when he was hit by Jones stepping up in the pocket at the end of the third. The only way SU could win was to put that offense up against the wall. Doug Marrone gave credit to his players who practiced hard all week after their bye.
“We said it during the week. We just had to do a good job of keeping the quarterback off balance, and we did a good job with that for most of the game. You have to keep him off balance and keep mixing it up. Coach Shafer and the defensive staff did a nice job and credit to the players for executing and really doing a good job.”
Jones and SU’s front four played with the most intensity we’ve seen all year. Maybe even enough to impress the likes of West Virginia AD Oliver Luck. Shafer needs to keep the pressure on over the next couple games, as SU will face two inexperienced quarterbacks in Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and UConn’s Johnny McEntee.
The Orange took down mighty WVU. Now it needs to sustain this play, and not stumble to the finish line like a year ago. Having the extra bye week on November 19th will do wonders. The Orange finished last season with eight straight games without a break, and dropped three of its final four contests.
The Big East is now wide open and Syracuse has all the momentum in the world. And with their defensive leader back on the field, the sky is the limit for an inspired Orange squad.
Posted: Kevin Fitzgerald