Yes Central Michigan was without their top running back Thomas Rawls, who was withheld from the game for an unknown reason, but it may not have mattered given the way the Syracuse defense played on Saturday. The Orange front seven were dominant, getting into the backfield on nearly every play. The Chippewas had nowhere to run all afternoon.
In total, Central Michigan ran the ball 23 times for only 34 yards. That's only 1.5-yards per carry. Central Michigan only managed two runs of 10-yards or more with a long of 11. Nearly every other attempt was bottled up and shut down for no gain or a loss by a motivated Syracuse front.
Syracuse finished with eight tackles for loss and five sacks as defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough dialed up blitz after blitz after blitz. The Chippewas had no answer. There was no room to run in the middle, where Eric Crume, Ron Thompson, Wayne Williams and the rest of the tackles hit their gaps effectively. This allowed the Syracuse linebackers to run free and make plays without having to shed blocks.
Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis combined for 14 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. Lynch also added a safety in the third quarter that essentially took away any momentum to which CMU may have been clinging.
It was a monster bounce back performance from a unit that struggled to make tackles throughout their season opener, allowing the first 100-yard rusher since 2012. This looked much more like the attacking, aggressive, efficient unit that was expected. Syracuse brought pressure from different spots all game and Central Michigan could never find an answer. They used press coverage on the outside frequently, daring the Chippewas to throw. They were unable to do consistently, especially with the pressure in the face of quarterback Cooper Rush on nearly every throw.
The defense set the tone for the game, starting the Orange's momentum as they scored 40 unanswered points. With the score tied at three, Syracuse got pressure on Rush. Robert Welsh collapsed the pocket and Eric Crume hit Rush, popping the ball free. The ball bounced up into Marqez Hodge's waiting hands and he returned it all the way for what proved to be the winning touchdown. The score put Syracuse up just 10-3, but gave the Orange, and their defense, all the momentum.
Syracuse will face better opponents with more weapons, and there are still some coverage issues that have to be corrected. But this was a dominating performance that is encouraging for the rest of the season as the most difficult stretch starts next week.