Sam Maller | Staff PhotographerFootball
LEVELING UP: Syracuse shuts down Stony Brook offense in 2nd half to snap 7-game losing streak
Scott Shafer chose not to alter his game plan during the first half. The Syracuse defensive coordinator wanted to wait, look his players in their eyes and challenge them.
If the Orange was going to stymie Stony Brook’s rushing attack, if it was going to reverse its poor tackling and make stops, every member of the unit had to understand each detail of his changing plan.
So at halftime, Shafer revealed what he wanted to see in the second half. Different angle movements, more support in the secondary and actually tackling rather than hitting were all points of emphasis against Stony Brook’s offensive tendencies. The Orange’s (1-2) defense processed and then executed it in its 28-17 win over the Seawolves (2-1) on Saturday in front of 34,512 fans inside the Carrier Dome. The defensive changes proved critical in SU’s first victory since it beat West Virginia on Oct. 21, 2011, snapping a seven-game losing streak.
“The kids did a real nice job communicating with one another in the second half with some formation adjustments,” Shafer said. “And we just created a little bit of a different game plan there to try to counter some of those tendencies.”
The results of the defensive adjustments were unquestionable. Stony Brook failed to score and didn’t have a single third-down conversion in the second half. The Seawolves managed only 45 yards on the ground, and they held the ball for about half the time they did in the first 30 minutes.
The Orange’s offensive inconsistency, which included failed fourth-down conversions, missed field goals and incomplete passes, amplified the staunch defensive effort.
Despite being a Football Championship Subdivision team, Stony Brook has two of the best tailbacks in the nation. Marcus Coker was the second-leading rusher in the Big Ten in 2011, but he’s second on the depth chart to leading rusher Miguel Maysonet.
SBU scored its first touchdown on a 63-yard play-action pass from quarterback Kyle Essington to wide receiver Kevin Norrell. The deep bomb from Essington, who came into Saturday having attempted a mere 23 passes, caught SU’s defense off guard.
The Orange expected the run and bit when Essington faked the handoff.
“I really wasn’t surprised because we saw on film, they bore you with the run, they just hit you with the play-action,” SU safety Shamarko Thomas said. “I wasn’t so surprised; I was surprised they hit it at that time.”
SU responded immediately with a 61-yard touchdown catch from running back Prince-Tyson Gulley, so Syracuse’s defense got little rest.
Maysonet and Coker used every bit of their 210- and 230-pound frames, respectively, to bulldoze their way through SU’s defense in the first half.
With 4:24 left in the second quarter, Maysonet took a handoff from Essington, ran right and leaped over Syracuse cornerback Ri’Shard Anderson to break free down the sideline for a 71-yard touchdown to put Stony Brook up 17-14 at halftime.
The two backs combined for 172 yards in the first half, with Maysonet accounting for 137 of them. As a team, the Seawolves ate the clock, holding the ball for more than 20 minutes of the first half.
“It was definitely tough,” Thomas said. “They were punishing the ball down our throats and we had to fight back.”
Shafer said he couldn’t wait to get into the locker room to meet with his players. He opted not to change anything during the half because he didn’t think his unit could process the information on the fly.
“We talk about it, almost try to do it on the sideline, but there wasn’t enough time,” Shafer said. “It was just a matter of ‘Let’s get them to the halftime, let’s make our adjustments and then go play some football.’”
Against an offensive line that averages 305 pounds, SU’s defense closed the gaps.
Perhaps most importantly, Syracuse made much-needed tackles.
“First half, I wasn’t very happy with the tackling,” head coach Doug Marrone said. “Second half, I thought they did a very good job.”
And while Stony Brook’s offense shut down, Syracuse’s thrived in the second half. Receivers Jarrod West and Marcus Sales each caught a touchdown pass, and that was all SU needed.
The longest run the Seawolves had in the second half was a 14-yard run by Coker in the third quarter. Other than that, Stony Brook’s rushers were mostly dormant.
Shafer anticipated a fight against the Seawolves and he got one. At halftime, Syracuse knew it was in trouble if it couldn’t halt Stony Brook’s running game.
It took some adjusting, but Shafer’s unit responded to the challenge.
“It was a nice opportunity for our kids to adjust to the elements,” Shafer said. “I was pleased with that.”
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