Andrew Renneisen | Staff PhotographerFootball
Coker catches first touchdown pass against Louisville in increased role in SU offense
Lewellyn Coker continued to bolster his offensive resume.
Coker, the linebacker-turned fullback, caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Nassib in Syracuse’s 45-26 win over Louisville on Saturday. It was his first career reception and touchdown.
After spending three seasons on the Orange’s special teams unit, the Syracuse coaching staff moved Coker to offense to work in the team’s “Tank” package in goal-line situations, something the Orange struggled with early in the year.
Syracuse lined Coker up at fullback, and put Adonis Ameen-Moore at running back in the hopes the two could bulldoze their way through defenses and punch the ball into the end zone.
“It feels great. At first I was just on special teams and defense, and then they moved me to come over,” Coker said. “I was happy; I needed more things to do. I’m a great player, so I decided to say yes to the coach and help both sides.”
Coker’s touchdown was a tack-on score in a blowout early in the fourth quarter. Syracuse marched down to Louisville’s 10 yard line, and then Ameen-Moore rushed for a gain of 7. The Orange had a first-and-goal, and Nassib found Coker open in the front of the end zone.
As Coker crossed into the end zone, he tripped over a defender but still managed to make the catch.
“That was luck,” Coker said. “I turned around the wrong way and I got tripped by the defender, so I just turned around, just did what I had to do.”
Syracuse’s secondary shines
Syracuse’s defense clicked throughout the Orange’s win over Louisville, but its most important accomplishment was blanketing Louisville’s receivers downfield.
The Orange’s defensive backs clamped down on Louisville’s receivers, so the only open areas quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could throw to were short distances in the middle of the field. Syracuse kept all Bridgewater’s passes in front of them and didn’t give up long passing plays.
But Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said the game plan was to be aggressive deep and allow the middle to be open.
“We were able to do a good job there where you couldn’t get rid of the ball fast,” Marrone said. “We knew we were going to be giving up some throws to the flat and keeping things in front of us. We said, ‘Let’s make sure that we tackle. Let’s not get beat deep.’”
Bridgewater rarely had much time in the pocket.
In the second quarter, Louisville faced a third-and-10 from its own 40. Orange linebacker Cam Lynch approached the line of scrimmage, ready to bring pressure. As soon as the ball was snapped, he exploded through Louisville’s offensive line and Bridgewater had to quickly pass before Lynch got to him.
Bridgewater’s pass was complete, but well short of the first-down marker and the Cardinals were forced to punt.
Bridgewater said it was a defensive game plan Louisville prepared to face. It didn’t matter, though, as the Cardinals’ passing game was shut down.
“They played loaded coverage,” Bridgewater said. “They played the deep ball, but we still had guys who were able to make plays underneath.”
Orange on verge of bowl berth
Despite being one win away from reaching a bowl game, Syracuse isn’t entertaining the thought. Instead, the Orange is following a game-by-game basis.
Syracuse last made the postseason in 2010 when it played in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, beating Kansas State 36-34.
The Orange plays Missouri on the road next week before ending its regular season against Temple in Philadelphia on Nov. 23.
“We really haven’t thought about the bowl game,” linebacker Dan Vaughn said. “We knew we had to win the next two, but it’s not something we’re focusing on as a team. What we were focused on was beating a very good Louisville team.”
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