Football

Bailey: Tactical adjustments put Syracuse in position to make bowl game

During six games this season, Cameron Lynch said he remembers looking to the sideline and feeling disappointed.

Whether it was Marqez Hodge or Josh Kirkland, there was another starting-caliber linebacker eager to play. But in the Orange’s 4-3 defense, there just weren’t enough linebacker snaps with Lynch, Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis in starting roles.

“It sucks when you see the guy, you know they’re fresh and it’s like, man, you know you want them to play in the game,” Lynch said. “But then again, you can’t come out.”

After a second week of Syracuse running the 3-4, that’s all changed. The swap was made in preparation for Georgia Tech’s triple option, but with a depleted corps of defensive tackles, the SU (4-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast) coaching staff kept it to shut out Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4) 13-0 on Saturday.

“It felt good to get out there and have everybody play,” Lynch said.

An offensive alteration — moving Ashton Broyld to wide receiver to make space for Brisly Estime — also led to success in the second half. It’s not as big as the defensive adjustment, but Terrel Hunt said Broyld only started practicing out wide on Tuesday. It’s a maneuver that puts Syracuse’s two most dynamic scoring threats on the field for every play.

Both tweaks, if maintained and polished, make the Orange an odds-on favorite to make a bowl.

“It helped the offense to have another playmaker on the outside, but he has some learning to do,” Hunt said of Broyld. “I have some learning to do, too, with how he’s going to come out of his break or how he’s going to run a certain route.

“We’ll get it. … A couple more practices, he’ll be good.”

For the defense, it all started when head coach Scott Shafer switched to a 3-4 for the Yellow Jackets.

It got thrashed against the unique, multi-dimensional formation. But with John Raymon out for the season and Eric Crume a game-time decision on Saturday, the Orange spent two full weeks practicing it.

Even when Crume said he felt ready to play in pregame warm-ups on Saturday, the coaching staff decided to keep the 3-4.

It held Wake Forest to 40 rushing yards. The Demon Deacons never even reached the red zone.

Jay Bromley led a formidable defensive front as it pressured quarterback Tanner Price and the bolstered secondary prevented the big play.

The Orange alternated between its 3-3-5 Okie package and 3-4-4 Georgia. The Okie, especially, helped take away Wake Forest’s short passing game with its additional defensive back.

Estime was thrust into the offense after seven games of running on for the occasional play.

He caught nine passes for 62 yards and a touchdown, despite a couple “snafus,” as Shafer called them. Broyld struggled in his new role and got whistled for two illegal substitution penalties while frantically switching spots pre-snap on a handful of plays.

It was rough at times, but the potential of the shift is enormous. Broyld bolsters a disappointing wide receiver corps and takes pressure off Jarrod West. Estime provides life for a recently lifeless offense.

“We tried to be creative and work him in some different positions,” Shafer said. “I need to find a way to continue to get Ashton some more touches, too, because I think he and Brisly are two guys who can move around and be successful with their feet.”

To make a bowl, all SU needs to do is split against Maryland, No. 3 Florida State, Pittsburgh and Boston College.

Aside from the trip to Tallahassee, Fla., they’re all winnable games.

Just give the offense a chance to recalibrate with its new personnel sets and let the defense thrive in its optimal formation.

If Shafer and company can make these changes permanent, Syracuse will make a bowl game.

Stephen Bailey is an asst. sports editor for The Daily Orange, where his columns appear occasionally. You can contact him at sebail01@syr.edu and @Stephen_Bailey1.

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