Mitchell Franz | Staff PhotographerFootball
Cover 2: Syracuse defense focused on limiting dual-threat Colter
Shamarko Thomas and the Syracuse defense have been scheming for one player all week.
He led Northwestern in rushing last season, finished third in receiving and stepped in to start at quarterback for three games. The impressive stat line of the versatile playmaker grabbed the attention of the Orange defense.
Thomas and his teammates have spent the week looking for No. 2, calling it out constantly, as they will Saturday.
“That’s our alert — No. 2, where’s he at, where’s he at?” Thomas said. “Is he behind center or is he at receiver or is he at running back because he can do everything.”
Kain Colter is Northwestern’s “do-everything” athlete who will open the season as the starting quarterback. Colter alternated between quarterback and wide receiver last season, starting the team’s first three games under center while Dan Persa recovered from injury. He provided defenses with a unique challenge each week and finished the season with 1,793 total yards and 18 touchdowns.
The SU defense will need to contain Colter when the teams meet in the season opener in the Carrier Dome Saturday at noon. The Orange struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks last season, and head coach Doug Marrone knows his team needs to be aware of Colter at all times.
“We have to make sure we contain him because if he gets outside the pocket he’s shown that he can make people miss in the open field,” Marrone said in the Big East coaches’ teleconference Monday. “Again, it’s a great challenge. Northwestern puts a lot of pressure on you in what they do.”
Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer said Northwestern runs multiple option formations out of its spread attack, making it crucial for his players to understand their responsibilities on every play.
And with Colter under center, Shafer saw his ability to tuck the ball and run at any moment. The Wildcats receivers were blanketed in coverage, but the quarterback burned the team for big runs when unaccounted for in the backfield.
The Orange struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks last season, allowing B.J. Daniels to rush for 117 yards and pass for 254 yards as he was in complete control in South Florida’s 37-17 victory over SU.
But Shafer isn’t looking back at last season. The defensive coordinator is focused on preparing for each opponent this season.
“It’s just doing your job and doing it fast and believing what you see. And when you see it, going 110 miles an hour and making sure you know where your help’s coming from on defense.”
Scott Shafer, SU defensive coordinator
“It’s just doing your job and doing it fast and believing what you see,” Shafer said. “And when you see it, going 110 miles an hour and making sure you know where your help’s coming from on defense.”
The aggressive mentality is one the defense has tried to form its identity around during the preseason.
Cornerback Ri’Shard Anderson said each unit aims to be “ballhawks” on the field. They all need to be ready to swarm Colter in the backfield and make plays on his passes.
Thomas, who was limited in camp due to an injury to his left hand, will wear a small cast Saturday. But the senior said he’ll be flying around the field when the game begins.
Linebacker Marquis Spruill said coming off five straight losses in 2011, the Orange has stressed finishing games this year. Spruill and the defense will be challenged in their first game as Northwestern employs a no-huddle offense that wears its opponents down.
“We got to be quick, disciplined, get back on the ball, be focused,” Spruill said. “We have to learn how to play when we’re tired, be focused when we’re tired because those are going to be really important parts of the game.”
Shafer said Northwestern reminds him of West Virginia in its speed and skill sets, and that the defense will use a variety of personnel groupings at positions as it did against the Mountaineers a year ago to keep the players fresh.
Still, Thomas admitted he and his teammates will get tired trying to keep up with the fast-paced offense. But Spruill said the team is determined to learn from 2011, making the fourth quarter a focus.
“Our philosophy is we thrive in the fourth quarter,” Spruill said. “That’s when we’re still hitting you hard, we’re still running fast.”
The defense, which finished last season among the worst in the Big East, doesn’t have time to ease into the year. When its season begins Saturday, one of the most dynamic players in the Big Ten will be on the opposite side of the field.
How the unit contains Colter could set the tone for a program aiming to forget last season.
Said Thomas: “Going out there and being 1-0, that sets a statement for Syracuse.”
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