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Syracuse Film Review: Second Quarter

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville’s second quarter might be the best quarter they’ve played on defense all year. The offense got a big play touchdown but didn’t do much to control the clock. The defense was on the field for more than eleven minutes but they only allowed 2.4 yards per carry on the ground and they were a penalty away from only giving up a field goal.


Dorian Etheridge is playing like a completely different player down the stretch of this season. He’s been flying around and hitting people all year, but he’s become the high volume tackler that they’ve needed him to be lately. Playing “downhill” gets overused but I can’t think of a better way to describe how he has been playing the last few weeks. Watch how he shoots this gap as soon as he sees an opening. There’s an offensive lineman looking to seal him but instead of taking on that block he trusts his speed to get to the back in the backfield.

I can’t tell who the right end on this play is (Malik Clark maybe) but he makes a great play to get up the field to set the edge on this play. It slows up the back and allows Dorian an angle to get to him. Really well done by the defense here.


Here’s another example of the defense playing the run as designed. I posted a handful of clips from App State games where they stuffed runs just like this. They slant the line to the right while the outside linebacker to the bottom of the screen sets the edge. Then the middle linebackers essentially follow each other into the hole. C.J. Avery takes on the block while Dorian follows behind to make the tackle. The defense got a lot of warranted flack after this game but it was a tale of two halves. They really did well to slow down Syracuse’s offense early on.


After Monty Montgomery’s extremely selfish late hit penalty negated a defensive stop, Syracuse hit Louisville with a really good play. The idea of this play is really no different than the play that Seth Dawkins scored on in the first quarter. Play action sucks in the defenders in the middle of the field. The super wide splits from the wide receivers stretches out the defense. Leak a guy down the middle of the field that is now wide open. Touchdown.

I can’t stress enough that Montgomery’s late hit changed how this game was played. Instead of a field goal and another defensive stand, they get a field goal and Syracuse still feels like they’re in this game. They won this game easily, but stuff like that just gets under my skin.


Louisville really used the read option well in this game. Micale Cunningham had the edge all day and Cuse never played it well so he just kept making them pay. It’s also great to see him make a move like this in the open field. Scott Satterfield rotated quarterbacks up until a few weeks ago and even though he kept saying both guys were healthy, it was obvious that Cunningham couldn’t do things like this until recently. A fully healthy Cunningham separated himself from Evan Conley and his legs are a big reason why.


Syracuse spent nearly the entire first half throwing the ball short or a little more than a few yards down the field. So of course when Byran Brown calls a short zone shell to put guys in the passing lanes and keep everything in front of them, Syracuse calls four verts. Plays like this look worse than they really are because they only rushed two guys but it makes more sense in context.

My one issue with the call from Brown is that it still leaves his corners on their own and they haven’t shown that they can cover down the field consistently. He shouldn’t have to worry about anyone getting beat deep with this type of cushion but here we are.


Here’s the flip side of the coin later in the same drive. Brown calls a double barrel blitz up the middle. Avery and Dorian come on the blitz with the right defensive end taking on the coverage responsibility on the running back. This is a “zone blitz” with the five guys in the secondary looking to take away passing lanes. That makes it hard to make that quick decision and quick throw which gives the rush time to get there.

Amonte Caban does a really good job of getting skinny here and he slips through the block attempt really easily. Nick Okeke also shows a nice pass rush at the bottom of the screen he bends around the edge to get home. C.J. also does really well to time his blitz. Both of those guys would’ve gotten home if Caban doesn’t get there. Something that’s been an issue all year is the lack of multiple guys pressuring the quarterback. Good to see a few guys make a play here.


This is a perfect example of a play action pass working. Watch the defensive end and the outside linebacker to the bottom of the screen. The little hesitation due to the run action gives Cunningham the time and the space to make this throw to Tutu Atwell. It’s perfect.


This was just an outstanding individual play by C.J. Avery. He reads this play and sees an opening. Then he just darts through the line to make the tackle right at the line of scrimmage. The speed and burst he shows here is exactly why I expected him to have a big season this year. It hasn’t been the huge year I expected but most of these guys up front will be back next year with a better understanding of the defense and they should be playing this fast on every play. A lot less thinking and a lot more reacting.


There’s one game left but Louisville couldn’t have played trick plays much better this year. Miami got a score on one play but UofL sniffed out these wide receiver passes and fake screens all year. The motto of the defense is “The Other Ten” which is all about doing your job with trust that everyone else will do theirs. The way they defended these plays shows that it got through at some level.


Bryan Brown calls another blitz here with zone behind it. The defense lines up with an overload look to the right side with just two guys left of the center. Syracuse slides the protection to the overload side but UofL drops two of the guys back into coverage. That leaves Dayna Kinnaird with a free run at the quarterback.

I love this blitz because it drops guys right into the window that looks to be open pre-snap. If the ball comes out before the blitz gets there, you have a really good chance at an interception or at least a stop short of the first down. There’s not a lot of ways you can beat this blitz outside of the defense making a mistake.


I felt so bad watching Jordan Davis run into Javian Hawkins on this play because he’s doing exactly what he should be doing on the play. He comes from all the way across the field to get into the play but Hawkins is weaving through the defense and the defender ends up crossing Davis’ face. So of course he cuts back to try to get a block because he’s the only threat near him. Unfortunately, he has no clue where Hawkins is and they end up running into each other. It’s impossible to know for sure, but I honestly think that Louisville ends up with a chance to score before the half if they don’t run into each other.