Last season, Syracuse football gave up over 200 yards per game on the ground. And this season, after a couple of solid defensive performances to start the season, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. Syracuse is still struggling to slow down any running back. Now, it seems like SU is at its lowest point in years.
Against Liberty, the Orange allowed Flames back-up running back Shedro Louis to rush for 170 yards and a couple of scores. As a team, Liberty ran for 338 yards. But at least that was improvement for SU from the Duke game, where the Blue Devils ran for 363 yards. Frankly, this season is incredibly bleak, and looked poor before the injuries began. Now, Syracuse can’t even beat a team in its second FBS season.
While the 3-3-5 defense has been effective in the secondary with takeaways, it doesn’t help Syracuse’s rush defense. Sure teams are spreading the ball out more and more. But against Syracuse, there’s no need to do that. Instead, teams just run it between the tackles every play.
Syracuse has been missing Eric Coley, who served as the “rover” in Tony White’s defense. That’s the position key to helping linebackers and linemen with the run. Without Coley, it’s clear that Syracuse doesn’t have any backups capable of serving as a stopgap.
Mikel Jones and Geoff Cantin-Arku are both seemingly developing. The two sophomore linebackers co-lead the team with 37 tackles each. But it is unclear whether that is due to solid play, or plenty of opportunities to bring down running backs.
Liberty quarterback Malik Willis threw the ball just 20 times on Saturday. Instead, Hugh Freeze – known for his spread offense – ran the ball 48 times. Against Syracuse, he knew his best chance to win was to pound the rock.
Syracuse needs to find someone who can take over the rover position while Coley is hurt. Maybe that player isn’t on the roster. If not, it’s up to White to find that in the 2021 recruiting class, which he may have already done with commit Malcolm Folk.
There’s no easy solution for Syracuse. If there was, Dino Babers would have done it. It starts and ends on the recruiting trail. While Syracuse is having its best recruiting cycle under Babers, it’s still a paltry 46th in the country, third worst in the ACC. For Babers to right the ship, that needs to change. And his recruiting pitch seems bleaker by the week.