It seems like there’s two camps of Syracuse football fans when assessing last year’s 1-10 debacle. There are those who write it off as a pandemic-stricken one-off, and there are those who seek change within Dino Babers’ system. We’ve written ad nauseum here at the Fizz about Babers’ no-huddle, no-scoring offense and what should be done about it ahead of next season, but a sneaky part of Syracuse’s failings last year were due in part to the other side of the ball.
After Syracuse’s offense finished dead last in the ACC in every major yardage category, it was definitely easy to miss how bad the Syracuse defense was last year, and it reflects a worrying trend that began in 2019 despite possessing future NFL talents in Alton Robinson, Andre Cisco, and others.
The 2020 Syracuse defense featured some NFL draftees like the aforementioned Cisco, but talent in the secondary did not equal results and Syracuse’s transition to a 3-3-5 defense under new defensive coordinator Tony White didn’t go well. SU ranked 3rd worst in the ACC in points allowed, 2nd to last in rushing yards allowed and total touchdowns allowed (only Duke was worse in both categories), and last in the conference in total yards allowed with 5,103.
That’s not to say things can’t be better. Syracuse’s narrow path to a surprising improvement in 2021 partially relies on strong defensive play, or at least a little more bending and less breaking.
Intangible things like better tackling, more familiarity with White’s scheme, and cohesion between returning starters will naturally help. The Orange could also benefit from some better injury luck, too – Andre Cisco was arguably the defense’s best player last year, and he missed all but two games with injury.
However, the real reason for optimism is that Syracuse has some promising players on its defense, particularly in the secondary. Garrett Williams’ 2020 freshman campaign was a revelation at corner, and 4-star recruit Duce Chestnut adds some added excitement to the position. Redshirt-senior Josh Black is still a stud and has a spot locked up at defensive end, while linebackers Mikel Jones and Marlowe Wax both have the chance to build on solid seasons.
Bottom line, Syracuse has the talent to be much better on defense than what they’ve shown since 2019. It’s up to Dino Babers to develop his talent and get his defensive unit to snap out of its two-year underachieving slumber. If Babers can do that, it’ll extinguish some of the flames beneath his seat, and the Orange will be a much better football team.