Men's Lacrosse

NCAA quarterfinal matches elite Syracuse offense against hyper-aggressive Yale defense

Syracuse-Yale pits strength against strength.

The Orange offense has spent the better part of the season dissecting, and eventually obliterating the defenses standing in its way. Limited possessions have been a mere speed bump as SU’s repeatedly shown that, for this team, some possessions can be enough possessions.

The Yale defense runs down its opponents, attacking with small, quick defenders and hardly hesitating to double team. The Bulldogs have frayed their opponents’ nerve this season, allowing the fewest goals per game (8) and causing the second-most turnovers (8.69) out of the eight remaining teams in the NCAA tournament.

“They’re smaller poles, but they’re really fast and very aggressive,” SU attack Kevin Rice said. “They like to go for a lot of stick checks and take the ball away from you.”

So when Syracuse (14-3) meets Yale (12-4) in the NCAA quarterfinals on Saturday at 3 p.m. in College Park, Md., it will be a clash of two of the nation’s best units. Yale’s defense, coupled with its ability to control the faceoff X could create a perfect storm of sorts against the dominant SU attack.

While many Syracuse players have faith in Chris Daddio and the rest of the faceoff unit, they’re also used to playing with limited possessions. Better still, for SU, the very defensive aggression that makes Yale so dangerous, may play right into the Orange’s hands.

“Our offense works better against teams that are more aggressive,” Rice said. “We’re going to spread them out, we’re going to use our middies to try and go by their shorties and try and create some slides and attack the back side.”

Unlike most teams, though, when Yale defenders slide to help, they stay there, creating a double-team instead of dropping back to recover. Rather than allowing both teams to regroup, they swarm.

That will put the Orange’s offensive spacing under the microscope. So the SU coaching staff is emphasizing the need for an outlet pass on either side of whoever has the ball.

“Some teams play position defense, and then slide to you, and then recover,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said. “This team slides to you and as the guy covering you is checking you and checking your hands and trying to take the ball away.

“So your focus at that point is just trying to get away from him so you can make a pass, and then all of a sudden the double-team comes.”

This week in practice, the Orange’s scout defense including Bobby Tait, Chris Swanson and Mike Messina is simulating Yale’s defense.

The real Bulldogs defense will feature two-time All-Ivy League defender Peter Johnson and second-team All-Ivy defender Michael McCormack. The duo will likely draw the assignments of Rice and midfielder JoJo Marasco.

Rice and Marasco will scout both players this week, Desko said.
Still, to get them opportunities, the Orange is going to have to hold its own at the faceoff X. Yale is winning 59.2 percent of faceoffs this season, led by specialist Dylan Levings. SU attack Derek Maltz said Levings is hardly a step down from Bryant’s Kevin Massa, who won 22 of 23 faceoffs against SU in its NCAA tournament opener last Sunday.

“I think our coaches, and the rest of our team is really still confident in Daddio and the faceoff guys that we have there,” Maltz said. “… In pressure games like this, that’s when Daddio plays his best.”

A nightmare scenario still exists for the Orange, one that features SU struggling to get the ball, and running into a buzzing, energized defense when it does. But if the Orange spreads the field, pressing Yale defenders will be playing with fire.

“We’re going to make them pay when they come out on us,” SU midfielder Henry Schoonmaker said. “Forty yards – we have forty yards to beat them to the goal.”

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