Syracuse was in this position two years ago: win or go home.
In 2011, SU entered Heinz Field in Pittsburgh with a 5-6 record and the Panthers dashed the Orange’s season with a 33-20 victory. That ending felt almost inevitable, as Syracuse lost five straight games to finish the year. Head coach Scott Shafer can’t let it happen again.
Syracuse plays Boston College this weekend, and the big question is whether or not Syracuse can contain Heisman Trophy candidate Andre Williams. The tailback has already rushed for over 2,000 yards this year. The Fizz sat down with defensive back Darius Kelly and talked with the former Junior College transfer about how the defense can get that done, what to take away from the Pittsburgh loss last weekend, and how his first season on the hill has played out.
Fizz: Hey Darius. After the 17-16 loss to Pittsburgh last weekend, the main theme players have been talking about is, “stop shooting ourselves in the foot.” What mistakes need to be fixed up on Saturday versus Boston College?
Darius Kelly: Last weekend was a bunch of little things that cost us the game. It wasn’t one or two plays that cost us the game; there was a missed field goal, a bad snap there, you know, it was an accumulation of things that lost us the game. So we’ve been working on the little things because the little things matter and that’ll lose us the game, the little things.
F: Jay Bromley said this week, “It felt helpless to only allow 17 points as a defense and lose.” Is that what it felt like against Pittsburgh?
DK: It definitely did. It hurt, sitting there watching the game go the way it did, watching them take a knee, it didn’t feel real. But the reality of it was we still lost the game. It was thanks to a bunch of little things and you can’t blame this person, you can’t blame that person. I’ll talk about myself, I blame myself for a few things I messed up. I’m sure everyone on the team felt like they could have done one more thing better to win the game last week.
F: You’ve gotten a lot more playing time the last few weeks because of the injuries to DBs Keon Lyn and Julian Whigham. How much have you stepped up lately and improved your performance?
DK: The extra reps are key. I’ve been taking advantage of it in practice, taking advantage of every little rep I get in the game situation. That’s just the way I prepare myself for every game, and every week. I prepare myself like I’m starting, so me going into the game is just another rep in a faster pace, seeing what’s going on in front of me.
F: You guys are facing a Heisman Trophy candidate in Boston College RB Andre Williams. What changes schematically this week in terms of how you guys blitz against such a powerful running back?
DK: We won’t change much schematically, we’re just going to come after him like we normally do. The biggest thing is we have to make tackles. He likes to embrace hits, so when we see the ball, see the whole. It’s about gap control and containing him and keeping him inside.
F: After facing 11 different running backs to this point in the season, what specifically stands out about Williams compared to all others that sets him apart?
DK: The way he breaks tackles, the way he jumps in and out of the hole, he’s just an all-around back. He fast, he’s strong, he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate. He’s the real deal.
F: The coaches are giving you guys an extra days rest, either Thursday or Friday because of the holiday, just to get away from the coaches and have time for yourselves before the final game of the season. How necessary is that extra rest with how banged up this them is heading into a do-or-die contest versus BC?
DK: Rest is definitely important for anything. You want to take care of your bodies, the coaches have been stressing that, getting the right treatments, and everything we need, to be ready for this game.
F: We’ll finish up on this. Darius. Your first year at SU is coming to a close with a chance at a bowl game on the line. When you look back, what’s been the biggest improvement you’ve made playing for a Division 1 College Football program?
DK: I would just say the technique. Just being within a team and surrounded by great players. I was at a school [Pima Community College] where there weren’t a lot of great athletes around me. Now everywhere I walk, there are great athletes around me. And I have to learn and trust the people around me and not just feel like it’s just me out there.
F: Thanks, Darius, good luck this weekend against Boston College.
DK: Thank you.
Posted by: Kevin Fitzgerald