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Tiki's Game Analysis: Syracuse

The Hoos were favored by a TD against the Orange, but trailed by 10 points in the 4th quarter. They managed to force overtime and win it in 3OT. Though it wasn't pretty, a loss would've been a disaster. It was badly needed, but there is still more work to be done before this season ends.

Smoke had, probably, his best game as a Wahoo.
Smoke had, probably, his best game as a Wahoo.
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

As the saying goes, "A win is a win." The Hoos badly needed to get into the win column. Though they had played one of the toughest schedules in the nation, 1-4 is still 1-4. And for a team that had won just 11 games over the previous 3 years, they needed wins. The players needed a win and the fans needed a win. But perhaps most of all, the coach(es) needed a win.

While there seem to be people who are disappointed by the win, an overwhelming majority of fans are thrilled that the Hoos won the game. But that doesn't mean we can't be upset by the way the team played. That doesn't mean that we can't be upset that the team needed a facemask penalty in order to convert a 3rd and long early in their late game tying drive. If that facemask penalty doesn't occur, the Hoos are facing a 4th and 9 on their own 15 with roughly 5 minutes remaining in the game.

The Hoos are currently 116th in the nation in turnover margin. They are 1 of just 2 teams (Texas State) in the nation who have not intercepted a pass all year. They are also 119th (tied) in the nation in passes defensed. Coming into the season, we all expected the secondary to be the strength of the team. The numbers above make it seem like this was erroneous. But was it?

Certainly the loss of Anthony Harris hurt the secondary in a big way. Not only was a very good cover man at safety, but he was also an experienced player who made the calls for the entire secondary and ensured that all of the DBs were in the same spot.

But that can't be the only difference. After all, the rest of the unit returned, and they are all a year older, a year smarter and a year better. But the rest of the defense also had a great deal of turnover. Most notable, the entire starting LB unit is gone. The 3 starting LBs last year combined for a total of 19 sacks, 33 TFLs and 17 passes defensed. This year's LBs have combined for 9 sacks, and 20 TFLs, but just 1 pass defensed. (I am crediting Mike Moore's stats as LB, even though he lines up as a down lineman on most plays. This was also the case last year with Max Valles.)

The problem may not lie with the DBs, but moreso with the LBs. Because of the aggressive defenses that Jon Tenuta prefers, the Hoos are bringing extra pass rushers on many plays. On the outside, the Hoos often go with single coverage, perhaps with a safety providing deep help. On some plays, all of the LBs are blitzing. In those cases, the middle of the field is open. We have seen, many times this year, a QB bailed out by hitting a wide-open RB or TE over the middle of the field. This is because the pass rushers often times aren't getting to the QB in time.

And, of course, we've seen several plays where the CBs have been beaten. This usually ends up being a big play. But that is the gamble you take when you blitz. You're gambling that you can get to the QB often enough to make up for the big plays you give up when you don't get there. The problem is the plays when Coach Tenuta brings just 1 extra pass rusher. This leaves 6 players in coverage. Often, this has been 5 DBs and a single LB. In these cases, the Hoos are hoping to pressure the QB enough that he has to get rid of the ball quicker than he'd like. Maybe you won't get the sack, but you're hoping to give up just a short pass.

It is these plays that are killing the Hoos. Because instead of giving up a short pass for 2 or 3 yards, many times the Hoos are giving up 10+ yards on these plays. This is why the Hoos are 120th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. This is why the Hoos, despite being 61st in the nation in rushing defense and 45th in 3rd down conversion defense, they are 111th in scoring defense.

Obviously, there are still problems with the Hoos offense. Chief among these is the turnovers. The Hoos have 12 turnovers in 6 games. If you turn it over twice a game, you're going to lose a lot of games. Matt Johns has had his moments, but he's 9th in the ACC in passing efficiency, completion percentage and yards per completion. Despite that, he is 2nd in pass attempts. Obviously, since the Hoos have been trailing for much of the season, you would expect more passes than runs. And, though the Hoos had some success running the ball this week, overall they have been quite poor on the ground.

As always some notes:

  • I think it is safe to say that this game was the best Smoke Mizzell has had in a Virginia uniform, even despite the early fumble. He ran decisively, he made moves in the defensive secondary, he made defenders miss and he scored 2 rushing TDs.
  • Mike London continues to have time management issues. In the first half, London had two TOs remaining when the half ended. In the 2nd half, he had 1. Maybe those TOs wouldn't have helped. But maybe they would've.
  • On the Hoos late drive, they got the ball with nearly 7 minutes remaining. They nearly ran out of time, because they dilly-dallied all the way down the field. Numerous times, they let the play-clock run down to nearly zero before snapping the ball, including a delay-of-game penalty which was nearly disastrous. This is a good idea when leading, but generally a bad idea when trailing.
  • While that late drive was successful, at least in terms of scoring the game-tying points, it was far from an impressive drive. Johns was 9-14 on the drive, with the biggest gains coming on screen passes to Smoke or Hamm. He was also sacked and took a delay of game penalty.
  • Seriously, has nobody on Syracuse's staff ever watched film of the Virginia offense? On 4th and 3, I think most knowledgeable Virginia fans could've predicted the screen pass that picked up 11 yards and a first down. That, frankly, is terrible coaching on the part of Syracuse. You have to know your opponents' tendencies.
  • At 2-4, the Hoos are still a long way away from saving their season. Closer than they were a week ago, sure. But we aren't any more confident after a less-than-impressive win, at home, against a pretty bad Syracuse team.