Two years ago, Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price left the Carrier Dome frustrated when an injury that knocked him out the game after torching the Syracuse defense. On Saturday, he left with that frustrated feeling once again. This time, it was because of the pressure he received from the Orange defense.
The front seven had Price running for his life all game long, forcing him to throw off his back foot time and time again. The Wake Forest offense lined up in a wide formation throughout, with huge gaps between offensive linemen. Syracuse had a plan to exploit that and executed it to perfection.
The Syracuse defensive line was great, winning the individual battles to get into the backfield. Isaiah Johnson, Micah Robinson, Robert Welsh, Ron Thompson, Jay Bromley and Eric Crume all got pressure on Price. The plan was clear. Flush Price out of the pocket and force him to throw on the run.
"We tried to close the gaps off and make him go outside," defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. "We tried to play games with him in terms of whether he could run up the middle or run up the side."
Syracuse may have only finished with two sacks, but the pressure was much more impactful than the stats would suggest. Price could not set his feet as he continued to scramble away from pressure, and that led to inaccurate passes even when he had open receivers down the field.
"They put a lot of pressure on him so he could never sit in the pocket," safety Durell Eskridge said. "He kept having to roll out and throw. When you have a quarterback doing that and looking for receivers downfield, and then we were holding down the receivers making sure they don't get too deep, you are playing a good ball game. Our defensive line gave him a lot of pressure and he had to roll out of the pocket almost every play."
Syracuse saw something on film and took advantage of the huge gaps in the Wake offensive line. They utilized a variety of blitz packages that harassed Tanner Price. Syracuse linebackers Marquis Spruill, Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis moved around the formation and attacked the gaps to force Price to run for his life.
Often the Orange would put three players over the center and shoot into the backfield right through the middle of the line. But they also attacked the edge, using safeties like Wayne Morgan to pressure from the outside. Continuing to mix it up, Lynch Davis and Spruill also attacked the gaps between the guard and tackle, getting into Price's face with ease.
The stellar defensive effort held Wake Forest to just 4-18 on third down conversions, 40-yards on the ground and 213-yards total while forcing 12 punts by the Demon Deacons.
Syracuse shut out a BCS opponent for the first time since a 1997 win over Wisconsin. It was also the first time Syracuse shut out a conference opponent since doing so against Rutgers in 1996. It was a bounce back performance for an Orange defense embarrassed against Georgia Tech just two weeks prior.
"At practice this week we were hitting harder, we were going faster and we worked harder," Isaiah Johnson said. "That was just the difference. You give us a loss and a bye week, that really builds up the momentum and the motivation because we were still mad. We're still mad right now. We're back to .500 but that means nothing to us.
"We want to go bowling. That's what time it is now."