Syracuse strives to improve defending screen passes

Syracuse strives to improve defending screen passes

first_imgJulian Whigham was asked to explain what went wrong on Virginia’s 18-play, overtime-forcing final drive of regulation on Saturday. The answer was a simple one — screen passes — and then he repeated himself four times for emphasis. The prior week against South Florida, Syracuse was gashed in similar ways, most memorably on an 18-yard gain on third-and-14. In a one-score game at that point, it prolonged an eventual fourth-quarter touchdown drive.For a defense that features 14 underclassmen on its two-deep depth chart, recognizing opponents’ plays is a challenge.“What happens when you have a young team is they’re just trying to execute the defense,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. “They’re not seeing the offense.”Linemen getting leverage, linebackers pursuing the ball and defensive backs shedding blocks all need to get better. The three levels of SU’s (3-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) defense hope to improve its screen-pass defense against No. 25 Pittsburgh (5-1, 3-0) on Saturday in the Carrier Dome at noon.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textWhile other position groups have different responsibilities, cornerback Juwan Dowels said the secondary’s job is to attack the play. Dowels said the biggest challenge is when offensive linemen, who might weigh 100 pounds heavier, run full speed into open space.“Definitely just being aware of it,” Dowels said of the most important aspect in stopping a screen. “It’s something in the game that really could change the game, could get a big first down off of it, you could score off of it.”Once players recognize it, Dowels said the defensive backs try to “trick (offensive linemen) and beat them with quick steps,” in order to avoid being blocked. If they can’t make the tackle, they try to force the play back inside to where SU’s front seven could catch up and bring the ball-carrier down.Late in the first quarter against South Florida, that didn’t happen. Quarterback Quinton Flowers faked a handoff, deviating from the standard development of a screen pass, and threw the ball near the line of scrimmage to wide receiver Tyre McCants. Fifty-seven yards later, he was brought down on the Orange’s 2-yard line and two plays after that, USF scored a touchdown.“It’s just a matter of actually catching the guy that catches the ball,” senior defensive end Donnie Simmons said. “It’s out on the perimeter so as long as we can contain him, we should be straight.”The issue is Syracuse hasn’t always been able to do that. Simmons said as soon as he sees the offensive linemen take a couple steps, he recognizes the play. But not everyone else on the field might see it as well as the fourth-year veteran.On the drive Whigham referred to, Virginia traveled 88 yards in six minutes, 52 seconds. Virginia faced a crucial fourth-and-3, that if SU stopped, it likely would have won the game. Instead, Taquan Mizzell caught a pass 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage with two offensive linemen who opened up a lane near the sideline.Three plays later, the Cavaliers ran another screen and again two linemen got out in front and paved the way for a 12-yard gain. It moved UVA from the 24-yard line to the 12-yard line and put the Cavaliers in prime position for a score.After two losses in which Syracuse was close in the fourth quarter, the difference going forward for SU could come down to small details — and short passes.“Guys that haven’t played before,” Bullough said of the players struggling with screens. “We just got to keep emphasizing it in practice and that’s the only thing you can do.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on October 22, 2015 at 9:06 pm Contact Paul: pmschwed@syr.edu | @pschwedslast_img

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