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In the Carrier Dome on Saturday, Syracuse allowed two Duke rushers to eclipse the 150-yard mark. It was the first time such an occasion occurred in Blue Devil program history.
Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant, whom Duke coach David Cutcliffe labeled “The Stable” after the 38-24 trouncing, each posted career-highs in both yards and carries. They led a Blue Devils rushing attack that recorded 363 total yards, gashing Syracuse from start to finish.
Though the Orange (1-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast) have injuries at key positions on the defensive side of the ball, including to preseason All-American Andre Cisco, Duke (1-4, 1-4) controlled the time of possession and got what it wanted in the trenches. The Blue Devils had rushes for 20, 48 and 50 yards.
The sheer size of Duke’s offensive line caught SU by surprise, Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said in his weekly press conference Monday. His lighter, quicker defensive front didn’t meet the Blue Devils’ physicality, and it showed.
“We had some missed tackles on the back end, had some missed tackles on the front end, we had some defensive linemen that got tired of running into things that are bigger than them,” Babers said. “And that’s the whole physicality part of it. When you start slowly getting tired, you’re not hitting those gaps the way you’re supposed to hit them.”
Some of SU’s run-defense issues were due just to poor tackling, others weren’t as simple. Below are some plays that explain where the defense went wrong:
Shotgun trap plays set the tone:
This is a classic spread trap run, with Duke’s two offensive lineman on the left side switching and blocking across. It’s a well-designed play that takes advantage of an over-aggressive Syracuse front-six.
The goal of the play is to get the left side of the Orange’s line too far upfield to open a running lane up the middle for Jackson. Left guard Rakavius Chambers leaves his spot to pull across the formation, sealing off linebacker Geoff Cantin-Arku. On the second level, Jackson evades an arm tackle from freshman safety Ja’Had Carter. Still, most of Jackson’s yards on the 20-yard pickup came before contact.
On a similar trap play later in the quarter, Durant broke a huge run from the pistol formation. This time, he made three Syracuse defenders miss early with great cuts after his linemen opened up a big hole for him. Again, the trap blocking scheme caught both SU edge rushers too far up the field and out of the play, this time for a 48-yard gash.
Brice keeps on the read-option in obvious running down:
As the game wore on, Syracuse did a much better job packing the middle of the field and preventing holes up the middle from opening. But Duke still had some wrinkles to throw at the Orange.
Chase Brice isn’t one of the most mobile quarterbacks Syracuse will face this year, but his legs are serviceable enough. On this read-option, he sees Steve Linton coming off the edge to stop the handoff, so he tucks for a 13-yard keeper. Receiver Jake Bobo also provided a strong downfield block to free Brice, who finished with 31 rushing yards on five carries.
Duke able to burn clock in the 4th with a lead:
With Duke leading by a touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter, the team used a balanced attack to set up a touchdown, extending its lead to two scores. Even in obvious rushing situations, the Blue Devils were able to move the chains.
On this 2nd-and-1, Duke called a dive up the A gap. Syracuse showed blitz, with its strong and weak side linebackers creeping up to the edges of the line of scrimmage. That leaves backup middle linebacker Marlowe Wax alone behind the trenches, and he attacks the wrong hole. Had Wax taken a better angle, he may have been able to meet Jackson in the hole and force a third down. Instead, Jackson hits the hole hard, sheds another Carter arm tackle and bursts into the secondary.
Facing two third downs on Duke’s ensuing drive, the Blue Devils ran similar dive plays out of the pistol formation to minimal resistance.
“We were missing tackles we shouldn’t have missed at the line of scrimmage,” linebacker Mikel Jones said postgame.
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