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Clinic Talk: Film Preview of The Syracuse Orange

Miami faces Syracuse a week off their Clemson upset

Clemson v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange upset the Clemson Tigers a weekend ago and Miami has to figure out how they can defeat the Orange. Historically, the Syracuse-Miami match-up has always been a blowout with Miami leading the series since the Big East and ACC relationship has been in existence. Per Bill C’s S&P+ rankings, Miami enters at 11 while Syracuse lines up ranked 59th. Syracuse upset Clemson, no doubt, but back to back upsets is quite rare in the annals of college football.

What does Syracuse bring to the table? The Orange are 4-3 in 2017, a year off of a 4 win season in 2016. This match-up didn’t take place a year ago but Miami has dominated most versions. Famously, Syracuse almost upset Miami in 1992, and beat the ‘Canes badly in 1998 with Donovan McNabb at quarterback. Miami has since won the last 5 contests and looks to make it number 6 in 2017.

The true question isn’t about Syracuse, but about how do you prepare a defense to face three completely different offenses over three weeks? The Florida State Seminoles ran the NCAA offense, before taking on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Flexbone defense, and now the Syracuse Orange will employ the Dino Babers’ Air Raid offense.

Miami used a 4-man line against the ‘Noles. Against the Jackets- the ‘Canes ran an odd front with 3 down tackles and 2 up defensive ends. What will the ‘Canes run against the Orange?

The FSU NCAA Offense

Against the Noles NCAA Offense, the Hurricanes ran a 4-man defensive line. The Miami base is a 4-3 that hybrids into a 4-2-5. Miami did a solid job against the FSU offense. But that was within the Manny Diaz base defense and an easy adjustment to the Miami offense that is the ‘Canes base. All spring and in fall camp the ‘Canes saw 21 and 11 personnel offenses and worked on stopping them via the base defense and fundamentals. Miami could run much of their own offense with their scout team and see similar speed, personnel, and style of play.

Below- Miami against a 10 personnel bunch set

The Yellow Jackets Flexbone

Chapter 2, Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz chose to run an odd front against the Yellow Jacket Flexbone offense. The Flexbone is a 30 personnel look which means 3 running backs and no tight ends with 2 wide receivers. The ‘Canes are in a 5-1 defense in the screenshot below. Mostly, Miami ran a 5-2 against the Jackets which causes the defensive line to run an entirely different front. The defensive tackles 2-gapped and tried to fight off the offensive line to stop the dive play.

The ‘Canes had to completely adjust their scout team away from the NCAA offense most programs run to a flexbone look with entirely different offensive line splits, gaps, style of blocking and the type of plays. This puts a huge onus on your scouts to pick up the offense quickly and effectively to give your defense a good look. It’s also a lot to re-teach your defenders. Tech offers many different play styles and blocking schemes from the rocket toss, to midline, to the true triple option.

The Syracuse Air Raid

Syracuse is going to use a lot of 10 personnel sets coming out in 2x2, 3x1 and empty sets. Miami is going to have to figure out which one of their fronts they’ll come out in. Will the ‘Canes run a 4 man or 3 man front? Clemson ran a 3 man front to offset the Syracuse empty set.

Below- the Syracuse 10 personnel 3x1 set.

Below- Syracuse ran a 20 personnel set and Clemson used a 4-man line.

So what will Miami run against the Syracuse Orange to offset the 2,000+ passing yards from Eric Dungey? He’s accounted for 20 touchdowns and another 380+ rushing yards. The best plan would be to shut down Dungey like Miami shut down Daniel Jones. Miami shut down Duke’s Daniel Jones and since then his season has been a mess.

The Hurricanes brought pressure and played man 1 against Duke. Knowing you have better athletes does help and much like with Duke, Dungey is the man for the Orange. Shut him down and you’ve shut them down. He’s not Lamar Jackson good, he won’t get his 400 yards guaranteed. Miami will have to improve their coverage and ensure that the linebackers get depth on pass drops while the pass rush needs to be on this week and cause issues for Dungey, but you can’t let him escape the pocket.

Syracuse Deep Seam

Syracuse loves 10 personnel, or 1 running back and no tight ends with four wide receivers. That’s not the original base of the Air Raid but it has become the de jour base under Hal Mumme disciples like Dana Holgorsen and Mike Leach. Babers learned under Art Briles who learned under the Mike Leach coaching tree. Middle deep routes are hard to throw but also hard to cover with all the other traffic going on around them. In the 2-high looks most defenses base out of today- you’re going to see no true deep safety but two guys playing split-field or paying each other no mind.

On this deep route, that opens up a huge hole in the coverage when the safety to the trips (bottom) starts with horrible alignment (inside vs outside or head up) and allows the middle of the field to come wide open. The safety to the solo (top) doesn’t help because really in 2-high split-field- he isn’t supposed to. This puts 3 over 1 on the top of the screen and 3 over 3 on the bottom. The bottom coverage means one guy screws up (the safety) and it’s a touchdown, which is exactly what happened.

Syracuse Empty Set Scramble

Syracuse goes with the empty backfield set here and a 3x2 look (3 WR’s to one side, 2 to the other side of the center). Clemson is late to set up on defense, and late to make a coverage call and get aligned. This leaves 2 receivers wide open and Dungey doesn’t make a change to the play / there’s no set cue to adjust routes against being uncovered.

To the trips side (bottom) at least that #2 receiver (the inside WR) runs a little 5 yard sit down but that’s too deep and allows the safety there to make up ground on his late alignment. To the twins side (top) that WR just runs right into the safety that wasn’t in position. None the less, Syracuse QB Eric Dungey is an athletic quarterback and he sees a massive hole from a 3-man pass rush and takes off for a big run and explosive play.

I’m featuring this play because Miami fans have to worry about the defensive backs not getting lined up properly, and then missing assignments as they’ve done all year. The football IQ seems low in the defensive back field. Then the linebackers have been weak in pass coverage all season as well, and weak linebacker coverage against an Air Raid team will mean they’ll nickel and dime you until you slip up and hit the deep throw up the seam we saw above.

This has to be a concern for the Hurricanes defense heading into Saturday afternoon. Miami easily has more talent and has played better under Mark Richt but many of the mental errors have to be fixed to switch mindsets once again and play the Air Raid shortly after the Flexbone.