The biggest take away from Syracuse's 23-17 season opening loss was the performance of the defense. The Orange were aggressive, made big plays, and looked every bit of the solid unit many expected heading into the season.
Up front, Syracuse did fail to get pressure during large stretches of the game. However, Robert Welsh stepped up and made some plays. He finished with a sack and an interception that changed the momentum to put the Orange back in the game.
Micah Robinson made some plays and was solid against the run. Jay Bromley and Eric Crume were stout up the middle, limiting Penn State to just 57 rushing yards on the day. Not to be outdone, John Raymon and Zian Jones were both strong against the Nittany Lion ground attack. Their size and strength gave the Penn State guards problems all day.
The Orange played on the Penn State side of the line of scrimmage frequently against the run. The ground and pound style of Penn State running back Zack Zwinak proved ineffective, averaging a mere 2.5 yards per carry on 24 attempts. The interior of the Penn State offensive line failed to open big running lanes, and the Syracuse defense took advantage.
The starting Orange linebackers of Marquis Spruill, Dyshawn Davis and Cam Lynch combined for 21 tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss. The group also had some big hits throughout, with Spruill leading the way in that category.
The Syracuse secondary was solid for a good portion of Saturday's contest. They played off of the Penn State wide receivers, electing to try to keep everything in front of them. However, a blown coverage against Allen Robinson led to a long touchdown in the third quarter.
Ri'Shard Anderson jumped a shorter route, expecting safety help over the top. Robinson took his route down the sideline and Durrel Eskridge did not stay home, resulting in a wide open Penn State receiver.
Playing only the second half, Robinson finished with seven catches for 133-yards and a touchdown. That is a worrisome stat for a Syracuse secondary filled with talented athletes. Some more talented receivers loom on the schedule, and the Orange must figure out a way to prevent that type of performance.
Despite that short coming, Syracuse showed the ability to make plays and create turnovers. In addition to the previously mentioned Welsh interception, Jeremi Wilkes stepped in front of a Christian Hackenberg pass to give the Orange the ball back.
Maybe the most impressive play of the night for the Syracuse defense was from Brandon Reddish. With Penn State driving, Robinson caught a pass over the middle in front of Reddish. Reddish was able to strip the ball from Robinson, scoop up the fumble and return it all the way to the Penn State 27-yard line.
Throughout the game, the Syracuse defense continued to give the Orange a chance to win. They held Penn State to 1-16 on third down conversions and forced three turnovers.
Syracuse continued their exotic blitzes that head coach Scott Shafer became known for as defensive coordinator. But new defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough showed a few trends as well. He likes to overload the blitzes on one side, utilizing the secondary to do so.
Bullough's group also showed the ability to be a very good tackling group. Despite the talent Penn State possesses at its skill positions, Syracuse did not miss many tackles in the opener. They showed the ability to make critical tackles and bring down elusive players in open space.
The team as a whole seems to be using better technique. It starts with taking the proper angle on ball carriers, being in the right defensive stance, and driving through an opponent with your shoulders while wrapping up around the waste. The entier defense was extremely impressive throughout.
As the offense continues to try to find itself, Syracuse will have to rely on their defense early in order to stay in games. After game one, that unit appears up for the challenge