It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that Syracuse’s problems this season stem from a terrible offensive line, and even the legendary Dante Scarnecchia would have trouble fixing the unit.
The issues for the Orange don’t end there. A lackluster defensive front and disappointing quarterback play have turned what once seemed like a remarkable resurgence into a moribund year with in-season staff changes.
Syracuse has run a 4-2 defensive front so far this season. This is a bit of an odd choice, however, as the unit returned several starters from a 2018 squad that ranked 60th in SP+ and 69th in points per game. This year, the Orange's points per game has dropped all the way down to No. 100, nearly a touchdown per game worse than last year. After bleeding 58 points to Boston College, defensive coordinator Brian Ward was fired.
Interim defensive coordinator Steve Stanard has previous coordinating experience with other fronts, but the Orange’s depth chart this week is the same as with Ward, so expect the defense to look fairly similar. Stanard loves running man-coverage schemes that prioritize deep safety coverage.
Man-blitzes have burned Syracuse time and time again this year. They led to a few interceptions off preseason Heisman favorite Trevor Lawrence against Clemson, but the Orange allowed the game to slip away with disadvantageous one-on-one matchups and poor gap fills.
Orange head coach Dino Babers comes from the coaching tree of former Baylor head coach Art Briles, who pioneered a distinctly explosive modern offense called the Veer-and-Shoot. Unfortunately for Babers, his offense does not have the athletes required for the scheme, and Syracuse’s offense is usually one elite athlete away from being great. Until then, the Orange are just trying to scheme around an offensive line consisting of men perpetually slipping on banana peels.
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Where the Veer-and-Shoot makes its money is on big plays that use decoys to isolate deep defensive backs against simple route combinations. The Orange don't have the large interior offensive line or perimeter athletes required to make this work, however, so Babers’ scheme actually features rapid passes in place of complementary interior runs.
Wide receiver Trishton Jackson is fairly talented and fills both short and deep roles for Syracuse. However, there isn’t much to fear outside of him, and the Orange have been quite hit-or-miss as to whether quarterback Tommy DeVito has enough time to complete even short passes before running for his life.
Overall, the Orange should have their hands full at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday. If their offensive line can hold off a surprisingly solid Blue Devil pass rush, their quick passes have a good chance to pick apart Duke’s subpar coverage in the middle of the field.