Just days after SU lax gave Orange Nation a reason to be hopeful with a much needed win over Princeton, the balloon deflated again. That gutsy performance against the Tigers may have marked Syracuse’s ceiling after losing to arch rival Cornell 12-6 Tuesday. The Big Red was the last elite opponent on SU’s schedule, which now features Rutgers, Hobart, Georgetown, and Notre Dame – none of which are in the top 5.
Cornell would have been the marquee win, and a reason for SU fans to believe in a young squad still trying to prove its championship credentials. Instead, what unfolded at Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca was a second half collapse indicative of a team searching for answers, especially on face-offs.
Syracuse’s face-off guys (or FOGOs) have struggled all year, but this showing was undoubtedly one of the worst. SU won just 8-of-22 possession battles all evening. This put an incredible stress on SU’s defense all night. Chris Daddio answered for his face-off performance after the game.
“We were getting a lot of the clamps at first, and then we would bring the ball out. Me and Ricky [Buhr] just need to do a better job of getting the ground ball initially and working with our wings a lot more. It was more of just our whole face-off group not being able to get together and get the ground ball. They were just beating us to it every time.”
Without a shot clock, dominant face-off teams have a decided advantage. Cornell essentially held possession as long as it wanted, and worked methodically for its shots. For good measure, the Big Red have one of the best offenses in the game.
Give SU’s defense credit. The scheme was well designed, especially considering freshman Bobby Wardwell was in net. Syracuse played a tight zone around the goal to protect him. Through the first half, Cornell had trouble getting good looks. Going into the break the game was tied 3-3, and Wardwell was having a career game.
But quick transition play put an energized Cornell team quickly up 6-3 to start the second half. Since Syracuse was incompetent at the face-off X, the Big Red had possession after possession to strike at a defense that began to fatigue. The Ithacans never gave in, and what was a close game slowly bled into a slaughtering.
This type of effort spells doom in the tournament. As The Fizz predicted earlier, SU will likely win the two games it needs to make the NCAAs, but once elimination lacrosse starts, winning less than half at X won’t fly.
How does SU solve it’s issues at face-off over the long term? Fans haven’t been happy with Daddio’s performance as a face-off specialist, and while Buhr has been more consistent, neither wins enough against elite teams. John Desko knows it’s a major problem, but seems to have the same frustrated answer game after game.
“It doesn’t allow us to be patient on offense. We feel like we have to play catch up. One of their guys would score, and they’d get the ball back.”
Back to .500, SU finds itself in the doldrums of mediocrity once again. One thing’s for sure: to have any chance at a run now requires some major changes at X.
Posted: Jake Moskowitz