Published November 20, 2014
Syracuse expects to see the other side of Munchie Legaux.
After tough back-to-back games that included five interceptions, the Bearcats want their inexperienced quarterback to get out of the pocket and run more on Saturday, forcing Syracuse to worry about more than just the pass.
The Orange (4-4, 3-1 Big East) have gotten into the race for the league championship by winning their last two, including a 37-36 victory at South Florida last week. Syracuse overcame a 20-point deficit to win — a first in school history.
Now, it has to stop a struggling quarterback who has gotten in trouble when he has to throw.
"It's like an extra running back there," Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas said. "You have to contain him and the versatile running back. It's definitely one of the hardest (defensive) schemes to perfect, but we've just got to do it."
The Bearcats (5-2, 1-1) have fallen out of the Top 25 with back-to-back losses at Toledo and Louisville. The 34-31 overtime loss to the Cardinals was set up when Legaux lobbed a pass into the end zone on third down in overtime, resulting in his third interception.
Although coach Butch Jones is sticking with the junior quarterback, he's changing his methods. Legaux ran only five times at Louisville. That number is likely to increase significantly on Saturday with more planned runs.
"For our offense to really be effective, our quarterback has to be more of a running threat at times," Jones said. "I think as he continues to prove he can do that and take care of the football, his role will continue to expand in that regard in the run game."
Jones also is looking to get sophomore running back Ralph David Abernathy IV more plays against Syracuse, giving the Bearcats more versatility. George Winn has been the main running back. Abernathy, who is more of a breakaway threat, has carried 19 times in the last two games combined.
Abernathy found himself lining up outside of the backfield more in practice this week.
"We all talked about me learning the whole offense, right down to tight end," Abernathy said. "They just want to try to get me everywhere so I can try to get the ball in my hands a little more."
Abernathy's biggest problems have come while protecting Legaux on passing downs. The 5-foot-7 running back has been working on his blocking.
"We are going to be seeing more of him this week and we've challenged him this week in pass protection," Jones said. "He will be seen more as an every down running back this week in terms of pass protection. We have done a great job of being able to play to his talents, get him the ball, create space for him, and we are going to challenge him this week to be more of a running back."
Syracuse will be short-handed in stopping the run. Junior Jay Bromley, who is in his second season as the starting nose tackle, has a lower-body injury and may not be available. Coach Doug Marrone called it a "devastating blow to us up front."
The Orange got into the Big East race with the big comeback at South Florida. A victory in Cincinnati would give Syracuse a winning record for the first time this season.
Syracuse trailed the Bulls 23-3 at halftime, then got the offense rolling. Ryan Nassib threw touchdown passes to Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon — the last one with 3 seconds to go — for a 37-36 win. Both teams piled up more than 500 yards on offense.
"We've been trying to do that all year long," Nassib said. "It's kind of the same story every week. We have to be able to turn the jets on and make some plays when we need to."
The Orange are trying to use that fourth-quarter comeback as a starting point.
"That's something we've really focused on this week, trying to sustain that level of play," center Macky MacPherson said. "Because if we can play at that level, we really feel like we're a hard team to beat."
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse contributed to this report.