Syracuse’s defense took a massive blow when it lost All-ACC defensive end Alton Robinson and defensive tackle McKinley Williams for the upcoming Camping World Bowl against West Virginia. Both are out due to personal reasons and did not make the trip down to Orlando with the team, according to an SU Athletics statement.
While all eyes are on the offenses in this game, the defense is the one that could ultimately decide it. Both teams check in at top 10 in the country in scoring offense. But Syracuse’s defense has been far superior in a number of categories over that of West Virginia’s. The Orange is the third ranked team in the country in turnover margin, while the Mountaineers aren’t too shabby themselves at 26th. Robinson is a big reason why with his three forced fumbles this season. He also ranks inside the top 10 in the country in sacks per game. His absence off the edge is certainly going to be a noticeable one. The Orange had the best sack duo off the edges in the ACC with Robinson and junior Kendall Coleman. The duo often faced double teams throughout the season off the ends. Their success warranted the respect of Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott who claimed that SU had the best defensive ends of anyone the Tigers had faced all season.
Meanwhile, Williams is a defensive staple for the Orange. The junior started nine games and appeared in all 12 that SU has played this season.
Their backups bring promise and questions at the same time. Robinson’s reserve is Kingsley Jonathan, who has had a phenomenal season as a second-stringer. He finished third on the team with five sacks as a backup. Jonathan could very well put up Robinson-like numbers once Coleman and Robinson graduate. Friday could be his chance to put his name on the map and build towards even more snaps in 2019.
Williams backup situation is not as clear. Josh Black is listed as questionable for Friday with a lower body injury. Black has been injury-prone throughout his career. He’s appeared in 24 games in three seasons, but has been productive when on the field both on defense and in special teams.
Regardless of Black’s situation, expect the SU defensive line to still have a field day. West Virginia allows 2.2 sacks per game, which is right in the middle of the country. Syracuse will get enough edge pressure with Coleman and Jonathan, especially with the absences of quarterback Will Grier and left tackle Yodny Cajuste, who are sitting out to prepare for the NFL Draft. With backups at the two most important positions in football, SU can get pressure based off of inexperience and potentially delayed decision making. The Mountaineers expect to roll with a two quarterback system of Jack Allison and Trey Lowe. Allison is the only one to take a college snap and has thrown just 10 passes in his career.
Syracuse is going to get pressure on the quarterback, even without Robinson. If the Orange sets the tone early, get ready for a defensive showcase with poor decisions from Allison and Lowe in the form of interceptions and sacks taken.