Can SU replace Chris Slayton in the middle of its defensive line? Who is going to line up across the field from Christopher Fredrick at cornerback? Those were two of the biggest question marks heading into the season. And already, Syracuse may have answered them.
Senior defensive tackle Josh Black was named ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week after recording four tackles, including a couple sacks, and a fumble recovery. Overall, Syracuse sacked Liberty’s Buckshot Calvert an astounding eight times on its way to a shutout. Generally, a defensive tackles job is to clog up holes and take on multiple blockers so edge rushers are freed up. If things go to plan, the speedsters off the edge find the quarterback. If a DT gets to the quarterback, that warrants a raise of the eyebrows. For Black to create enough pressure from inside to sack Calvert twice – and help his buddies on the edge feast – is very promising for SU.
In the secondary Ifeatu Melifonwu had a monstrous game. The redshirt sophomore used his reach to swat away two passes, while picking off a third. If Calvert managed to get rid of the ball, there was a good chance Melifonwu made sure it didn’t reach the intended target. At 6-foot-3, Melifonwu is longer than many of the receivers he’ll match up against.
A defensive line of Alton Robinson, Kendall Coleman, and Black paired with a secondary of Ander Cisco, Fredrick, and Melifonwu creates a terrifying situation for opposing quarterback. Heck, I wouldn’t even want to be Tommy DeVito going up against this force in practice. Having an extremely strong first and third level of the defense doesn’t give offensive coordinators many options. Shutting out Liberty wasn’t the most impressive statistic from SU’s defense. They limited a Hugh Freeze led offense to minus-4 rushing yards. Granted, the Orange will face much better opponents than Liberty, but that’s impressive no matter the team.
This offseason Dino Babers even alluded to how good he thought his defense could be:
Babers has created a program with “the next man up” mentality. Over the past couple of seasons, he seems to have created the depth so his team is prepared once graduation rolls around. Black and Melifonwu looked ready for this moment. Last season, the first-year starters at linebacker were composed from Week 1. Babers and Syracuse fans just have to hope that this years defensive tandem stays consistent, just like the linebackers did a season ago.