Blum: Late defensive lapses against Virginia spell end to feel-good start to season

first_img Published on October 18, 2015 at 10:01 pm Facebook Twitter Google+ CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Canaan Severin slid across the end zone on his back, the football he just caught resting comfortably in his arms. Syracuse cornerback Julian Whigham lay inches to his right, flat on his stomach. The foot of separation Severin created was enough for a game-saving 36-yard touchdown from Virginia QB Matt Johns, who ran off the field dancing as the Cavaliers tied the score in overtime. In the seconds before Johns escaped the pocket and rifled his throw, Syracuse had a chance to put everything behind it. A disastrous 21-point loss to South Florida a week before that had escaped the narrative of the season’s surprising start. A fourth-quarter lead that the Orange lost just moments before on a debilitating six-minute, 52-second UVA drive that tied the game on the last play of regulation. It all could have been forgotten. Syracuse’s season, once filled with the promise of a 3-0 start, could have gotten right back on track. But as the daylight wore out at UVA’s Scott Stadium on Saturday, so too did SU’s defense and any momentum or good will the Orange built up the first four weeks. AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“We’re not a 3-3 team,” linebacker Zaire Franklin said, the tone of his somber voice and the flat expression on his face unchanging as he answered questions. “But it’s our reality.” Whatever Syracuse should be or could be is not what it is. The same staunch defensive team that shut out its opponents in six of the season’s first eight quarters reappeared in the first half. It wasn’t until the 11:33 mark of the second quarter that Virginia was able to pick up a first down. Forty-nine minutes in the game, the Cavaliers had scored only seven points on offense. Severin, the fourth-best wide receiver in the ACC, was limited to 34 yards in regulation. The biggest play of Johns’ day before OT was a 22-yard pass. Early in the game, Shafer said his secondary was “on top of it.” The numbers didn’t lie. The fans, booing Virginia off the field at halftime, didn’t either. But then came the two-yard touchdown from Johns to tight end Charlie Hopkins. Then, after the Cavaliers got the ball back less than four minutes later, a series of screen passes — “screens, screens, screens, screens and more screens,” as Whigham described it — on an 88-yard, 19-play drive finished regulation with a field goal. The same defense that held UVA to 129 first-half yards couldn’t get a stop when it needed to. Not to end regulation. Not to win it in overtime. Not even close when it needed a stop on what proved to be UVA’s game-winning drive.“I don’t know if our guys get tired or what it is,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. “But we just didn’t tackle in the second half.” The Orange proved with its 3-0 start that it was capable of being a bowl-eligible team. It solidified that with a neck-and-neck loss against LSU, armed with the nation’s top playmaker. The last two losses don’t spell out a crisis of talent or coaching. Everything the Orange flashed in the first month of the season shows its capability. But football is a sport where perception is reality, especially in a 12-game season — and Franklin wouldn’t disagree. The Orange shifted its perception to start the year, but in a stretch of five straight drives without a defensive stop, that momentum ended. Scott Shafer spoke in hindsight after the loss. He wished the third-down defense was better. He hoped for a big hit or fumble on the last drive of regulation. He wanted a different result for the game. But he wasn’t mad. His team hasn’t been able to build on the perfect 3-0 start. Even though a debilitating loss to Virginia can make 3-3 the reality, it’s not one that’s set in stone.
“As much as this sucks, you’ve got to look forward, you have no other choice,” Franklin said. “Whether you like it or not, you’ve got six more games to play.” Commentslast_img

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