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Opponent Breakdown: Syracuse Orange Defense

Dino Babers hopes his top-25 defense can continue to progress.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Tony White is in his third season as the Syracuse defensive coordinator and he has made a major impact during his time at the helm. The Orange has improved across the board each season and his players are starting to get recognition for their production. White’s 3-3-5 scheme is tough to prepare for and he now has the talent needed to deploy it at its best. With the youth of the defense last season, White has to be excited about what his defense can be with more experience.

The defensive line is the one position group that will have a facelift this season. The starting group has moved on and the depth that they utilized last year will have to step up. This scheme needs the defensive linemen to be more disruptive than productive but it has to be noted that they return nearly no production from the defensive line last year. Steve Linton is the best bet when it comes to rushing the passer. Linton has good length and should be comfortable in the system as a third-year player. Terry Lockett is the key player in the middle. At 270 pounds, he could get pushed around by UofL’s size.

Linebacker is where the Orange are at their best. Mikel Jones is a star at middle linebacker and he does it all for the defense. Jones led the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and finished the year with four sacks. Jones took advantage of a defensive line that cleared out space for him but he is also very athletic and fast. He hasn’t played very against Louisville but after his bulletin board material from ACC media days, I’m sure he will want to show out.

Stefon Thompson and Marlowe Maxe flank Jones and both were very productive when they were on the field last season. Thompson has great speed for a player his size and he has a knack for making plays around the line of scrimmage. Thompson finished the season with 6 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He will likely see a lot of Marshon Ford on Saturday and that will be a key matchup in the run game.

Syracuse has two of the best cornerbacks that Louisville will see this year. Garrett Williams finished last season with 10 PBUs while teams chose to test other players in the secondary. Those tests failed most of the time as Duce Chestnut stepped in as a true freshman with 8 PBUs and 3 interceptions. Louisville was able to throw the ball all over the field last season but I think that the year of experience should show up most for Syracuse at the corner position. Chestnut fell off later in the season as most freshmen do but he is a real talent that should develop well for the Orange. We will learn a lot about UofL’s new receivers.

Safety has been upgraded for the Orange with the addition of Alijah Clark from Rutgers. The former four-star recruit pulled down an interception last season and has plenty of snaps under his belt as a second-year player. Clark joins new starters Ha’Had Carter and Justin Barron as the starting safeties. Rob Hanna and Jason Simmons have plenty of experience as backups with starting experience but neither has shown the ability to be a playmaker to this point. This is where UofL could exploit the defense in the passing game. UofL running backs averaged 5.76 yards per carry in last year’s game. If they can do that again, these safeties will have to cover receivers on deep routes. That is not where they’re at their best.