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Syracuse’s defense needs to pick up pace

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SYRACUSE — Two games into the college football season, there is a buzz circulating around Syracuse University’s offense.

But the defense is a different story.

After losses to Northwestern and No. 2 Southern California, Syracuse leads the Big East in scoring offense (35 points per game), passing offense (402 yards per game), total offense (525.5) and first downs per game (30).

The Orange, which will host Stony Brook at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Carrier Dome, has the third-best passing offense in the nation, ranks eighth in first downs and 20th in total offense.

But the Syracuse defense is allowing 391 yards per game, which ranks 66th in the nation, and has given up 42 points in each loss, making it the 109th-ranked scoring defense.

“We played two tough teams, very offensive-minded opponents,” said junior defensive tackle Jay Bromley, a second-year starter who tallied four tackles and a sack last Saturday against the Trojans.

“We’re growing as a defense, internally and at every position, trying to get better week by week. I feel like at this point, we’ve put a lot of good things on film, but we’ve also seen a lot of things that we have to correct,” Bromley added.

In last Saturday’s loss, Syracuse allowed USC quarterback Matt Barkley to throw six touchdown passes, more than any player has thrown against the Orange in the history of the program.

The Trojans’ receiving duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee combined for 21 catches and five touchdowns.

“My concerns would be if we weren’t playing hard, if we weren’t doing what we should do,” fourth-year coach Doug Marrone said. “We gave every effort to stop those plays and stop those individuals and at the end of the day, those players are probably the most talented duo in college football.”

During its seven-game losing streak that dates back to last season, Syracuse has given up an average of 34 points per game, and has allowed more than 30 points in five straight outings.

But Bromley insists, whether the early statistics show it or not, that this year’s unit is better and more experienced than it was last year.

Syracuse returned eight starters from last year’s defense, including six of its top seven tacklers.

“We’re a much better defense than last season, there’s a lot more older guys on this team, so a lot more guys have been through it and we’ve grown up a lot on this team,” Bromley said. “Maturity is a big thing on our defense and we have that.”

Ri’Shard Anderson, a senior cornerback who is tied for the team lead with 13 tackles, said that the communication among the defense is much improved from last year, and he believes the unit is ready to turn the corner.

“I feel that we’re headed in the right direction, we just have to close out games and get some wins,” Anderson said.

INJURY UPDATES

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone updated the injury status of three key offensive players on Thursday.

Marrone said that senior left tackle Justin Pugh participated in practice this week, but he is still unsure when he will return.

Pugh, who has missed both games this season recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, started all 25 games in his sophomore and junior years and was named to the 2011 All-Big East First Team.

Marrone also confirmed that sophomore wide receiver and kick returner Jeremiah Kobena will miss “a couple of weeks,” after suffering an upper-body injury during last week’s game that required surgery.

Marrone said that receiver Chris Clark will play a bigger role in the offense during Kobena’s absence, and Steve Rene will take over as the kick returner.

Junior receiver Adrian Flemming, who has yet to play this season after an injury during preseason camp, will not return on Saturday. Marrone said the team is not sure when he will be ready.

LIONS’ DUKES MAKES DEBUT

After not getting a carry in Penn State’s season opener, former Indian River standout Curtis Dukes saw plenty of action in the team’s 17-16 loss to Virginia last Saturday.

Dukes, a 6-foot-1, 245-pound senior, carried the ball 10 times for 31 yards. He was second on the team in carries to Derek Day, who picked up 49 yards on 18 attempts.

Sportswriter Josh St.Croix covers Syracuse University football for the Times. He can be reached at jstcroix@wdt.net

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