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Fizz Film Study: How Will Teams Counter Syracuse’s Run Game?

Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo

Everyone in the ACC knows the strength of the Syracuse football team is the run game. Sean Tucker is a bonafide stud, named to almost every award watch list before the start of the 2022 season. The SU single-season rushing record holder is practically guaranteed to be an NFL Draft selection after this season. Syracuse Athletics even has its own campaign for Tucker to win the Heisman.

But let’s not forget about quarterback Garrett Shrader as well. The Mississippi State transfer ran for 781 yards last year (keep in mind, he didn’t start until game four), third best for QBs in the ACC. Some would consider Shrader more of a ground threat than an aerial attacker, as his completion percentage was in the high 50s. New offensive coordinator Robert Anae brings a more “Air Raid” style of passing offense to the Hill, but the offensive personnel remains the same. Shrader might make some throwing improvements in 2022, but he’s not going to turn into Dan Marino overnight.

Needless to say, opposing teams are going to key in on the SU run game in 2022. Let’s check out how the Orange’s week one opponent, Louisville, did so last year.

First Play of the Game

All Game Footage Courtesy of ACC Digital Network

Louisville comes out in Cover 1, meaning there is one deep safety (the player standing on the first down line). He drops back into coverage, while the cornerbacks on the outside play man-to-man. The rest of Louisville’s defense (three down linemen, three linebackers and a safety) are stacked inside the tackle box (the yellow rectangle, which represents the area from tackle to tackle. Teams attempt to fill all the gaps a team could potentially run the ball towards.)

Besides the movement of the safety towards the middle of the field, this is a relatively basic coverage. Shrader should be able to tell it’s man-to-man based on how the corners are matched up with the receivers. Offensively, Syracuse has six guys in the box to block seven Cardinals, but Shrader and Tucker both acting as running threats means it’s 8 vs. 7 – the defense has to account for both the QB and RB running the ball.

The play is a zone read option, and Tucker eventually gets the ball running behind center and right guard.

The Louisville linebackers are frozen, as they don’t know who has the ball. Tucker eventually takes it, but the hesitation from the Cardinal defense allows the Orange o-line to get up the field. SU gains four yards.

Later in the Drive

Now, Louisville has brought an extra man into the tackle box. It’s still man-to-man at the bottom of the formation, but the Cardinals can account for the quarterback and running back.

Syracuse ran a stretch zone read, faking the Tucker handoff to the right and countering with Shrader to the left. Louisville’s defense keyed in on Tucker and the ‘Cuse QB snuck to the second level for a seven-yard gain.

Next Drive

The final score of this game was 41-3, Louisville. The Cardinals’ defense figured things out.

There are now nine defenders in the tackle box. Syracuse is running a jumbo set with two tight ends, and Louisville has countered with both safeties down near the second level. The Cardinals are not worried about getting beat by SU’s wideouts, who are 1-on-1 with plenty of green grass ahead of them.

Until the Orange can prove they can pass effectively this year, expect a heavy dose of defenders inside the tackle box to counter the Syracuse run.

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.


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