1st-year Syracuse coach Shafer stresses defense with attitude
When Scott Shafer was named Syracuse's coach this year, he made a statement any mother — especially if her son plays for Pitt — won't appreciate.
“I envision an orange crush defense that makes the opponents' families cringe when their child is about to get hit,” he said. “We want to put the fear of God in the opposing football player that happens to have the ball underneath his arm.”
Promoted from defensive coordinator when Doug Marrone left Syracuse for the Buffalo Bills, Shafer's aim was to build a defense with a nasty streak, which shouldn't be a problem if players are more like their coach. Earlier in the season, Shafer apologized for shouting obscenities at Clemson coach Dabo Swinney for trying to convert a fourth down with a 35-7 lead.
When told of Shafer's hiring-day declaration, Pitt coach Paul Chryst, whose style runs counter to graphic promises, didn't question Syracuse's defense.
“You can see that mentality as far as they are going to be aggressive,” he said.
Which could mean trouble Saturday at the Carrier Dome where Pitt plays its next-to-last ACC game this season.
Syracuse's style is to blitz furiously — Virginia Tech and Clemson are the only conference teams with more sacks than the Orange's 30 — and Pitt has had almost weekly problems protecting quarterback Tom Savage.
The Panthers (5-5, 2-4) likely will go into the game without starting offensive linemen Adam Bisnowaty and Cory King for the third time in the past four weeks.
Despite Shafer's bravado, Syracuse (5-5, 3-3) has struggled on defense, allowing 265 points, fourth-most in the conference. In losses to Northwestern, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State, Syracuse has surrendered 48, 49, 56 and 59 points.
On offense, Syracuse slowly is adjusting to quarterback Terrel Hunt (6-foot-3, 219 pounds) after three years with Ryan Nassib. Hunt is a good runner (323 yards), but he has thrown only seven touchdown passes — none against a team from a BCS conference.
The game is the first as ACC members for two familiar foes, who have met every year since 1955 and 68 times overall. The only opponents Pitt has played more are Penn State, West Virginia and Notre Dame.
The winner becomes bowl eligible, but Chryst doesn't want that to be the only goal.
“If it was all about the bowl, I would be a little bit nervous because that is putting yourself ahead of it,” he said. “It's Syracuse, and that stands on its own merit.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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