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Reyes leads diversified Orangemen offense

Joe Hettler | Friday, December 5, 2003

Syracuse running back Walter Reyes has over 1,000 yards rushing this season, and he’s just one of the problems facing the Notre Dame defense when the Orangemen play the Irish in the Carrier Dome Saturday.

“I think it’s one of the most physical teams we’ve seen,” Irish defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. “Their fullback is a great blocker. They do a great job with their running game. They set [up the offense] with the run and the play-action passes. The quarterback is mobile, extremely mobile, so he presents a problem with his ability to scramble.”

“They’re totally different than anything we’ve seen.”

The Orangemen (5-6) have one of the better rushing games in the country and use the fleet-footed play of quarterback R.J. Anderson to keep opposing defenses off-balance. Anderson is the second-leading rusher on the Orangemen and runs the option. He averages a modest 177 yards a game passing but has thrown twice as many touchdowns (10) as interceptions (5). Anderson also has five rushing touchdowns.

Anderson has played solidly for Syracuse, but clearly the focus of the offense is Reyes. The junior, who is also the cousin of Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett, has rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons as a starter. He is ranked eighth on Syracuse’s all-time rushing list and is seventh in terms of receptions by a running back.

“He’s a heck of a back,” Baer said. “He reminds me of Julius [Jones] a little bit. He’s not quite as fast, but it’s hard to tell.”

Reyes has 1,158 rushing yards on the season and averages 4.9 yards a carry. His 15 rushing touchdowns also lead the team. The 5-foot-10, 209-pound running back was held to only 40 yards on 18 carries in Syracuse’s 24-7 loss to Rutgers last weekend.

But this week Baer expects Reyes and the Orangemen offense to play better against the Irish defense. Syracuse’s offense has scored 34 points or more in a game five times this season.

“Last week, it just looks like they couldn’t get it rolling, and I don’t know what happened because they’re certainly explosive,” Baer said. “They’re going to be difficult just because of all the different things they can do.”

The Syracuse offense shows numerous formations, which is the main reason they cause problems for opponents’ defenses. The Orangemen run the option, a two-back set, and spread the field with four-receiver formations. Notre Dame defensive lineman Darrell Campbell said the Irish must stay disciplined in their defensive assignments for the option and force Syracuse to throw the ball.

“The game plan is still the same – stop the run and make them one-dimensional on the pass and get after them that way,” Campbell said. “Basically, they’re an offense that incorporates so many different formations you have to be very disciplined, especially if they have the option in that package.”

Baer said the best starting point was to limit Reyes’ production, then focus on stopping Anderson and the passing game.

“We have to defend the run first and make sure [we’re] sound against the option,” Baer said. “The option puts you in bad positions. So I think that’s where we start. You try to force them into as many passing situations as you can.”