Football

SU defense remains unproven heading into 1st real test

David Salanitri | Staff Photographer

Corey Winfield, who returned an interception for a touchdown last Friday, was part of an SU defense that's posted more shutouts than it did all of last season.

When Syracuse’s defensive coaching staff finished grading the tape of the Rhode Island game, their collective reaction indicated the sample size.

“That’s all? Those are the only plays?” SU head coach Scott Shafer recalled the coaches saying.

In a 47-0 season-opening win over Rhode Island last Friday, Syracuse’s (1-0) defense gave up two first downs and was only on the field for 19:46. The unit rolled out nine new starters in Week 1 — junior defensive end Ron Thompson was limited to late-down packages — and will remain unproven until it faces a tougher test than the Division I-AA Rams.

That will come against Wake Forest (1-0) at 12:30 p.m. in the Carrier Dome on Saturday, which starts SU’s Atlantic Coast Conference schedule and offers a better measurement of its new-look defense.

“We’re never satisfied with how we play,” SU safety Rodney Williams said Tuesday. “But we also do know that this week is a big week for us to show what we’re made of. It’s a young group, and a hungry group.”

The Demon Deacons aren’t an offensive juggernaut by any estimation, but there is a stark contrast between WFU and Rhode Island’s respective offenses. Wake Forest faced Elon, a similar program to URI, in Week 1, and won 41-3 while collecting 591 total yards of offense. Quarterback John Wolford, who Shafer complimented during his Thursday press conference, went 20-for-27 for 323 yards and three touchdowns.

As far as watching Wake Forest’s film from last week, Shafer said Syracuse can pick up on offensive schemes and how Elon’s defense tried to attack them. The way the head coach summed up his team’s performance against the Rams can be applied to both teams heading into Saturday’s matchup.

“We also have to understand that it’s a (Football Championship Subdivision) opponent,” Shafer said. “You know our goal was to go in and handle that job with a sense of discipline and feel good about playing at a high level against a team that we should play at a higher level.”

Now the Orange preps for the only ACC team it beat last season, a 30-7 win on the road. The forecast is for a defensive battle of conference bottom-feeders, and SU’s defense will show if it can be relied upon for another season.

“There’s a lot of new starters, a lot of turnover and we know that,” Williams said. “I think that’s just more of a reason to be motivated going into this game. We just want more football, more opportunities.”

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