SU’s defense and faceoff success stifle Virginia’s No. 4 offense in 12-11 win

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ UPDATED: March 4, 2018 at 10:49 p.m.CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Syracuse’s defense has been its strongest attribute throughout the season. It’s what has kept the Orange within striking distance for the majority of every game, and a big factor in No. 12 SU’s triple-overtime comeback win a week ago. On Sunday, against a run-and-gun transition offense like No. 4 Virginia’s, the defense had its hands full. Right away, Syracuse’s defense was tested, and the group made its presence known.Three minutes into the game, UVA’s second-leading scorer, Ian Laviano, tried backing down redshirt sophomore Nick Mellen. But the preseason All-American quickly tomahawked down and knocked the stick out of Laviano’s hand. Mellen scooped the ball and fired upfield, where Tyler Ford eventually scored the first goal of the game.Syracuse’s defense continued its dominant performance on Sunday at Klockner Stadium, forcing 19 total turnovers and limiting Virginia to just one goal in the second and third quarters combined. Despite the Cavaliers’ (4-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) late comeback in the fourth quarter, SU’s (3-1, 1-0) defense remained strong, staving off the potential comeback in a 12-11 win. For the fourth-straight year the Orange beat Virginia, which has not won an ACC regular-season game since March of 2014.“Playing fast and playing physical, not letting them get comfortable with what they want to do,” goalie Dom Madonna, who finished the game with 10 saves, said. “They want to get you spinning around.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textFor the first three quarters, Virginia’s offense looked uncomfortable, Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany said. Sophomore midfielder Dox Aitken said Syracuse’s defense “did a really nice job getting us out of our rhythm.”That came from the defense constantly pressuring the Virginia offense, resulting in errant passes or loose ground balls. The fourth-ranked Cavaliers offense normally presses opposing defenses and thrives in transition. But opportunities were few and far between on Sunday.Virginia’s success in transition comes from its “5-on-5” offense, Tiffany added. After a defensive stop, UVA tries to trap an offensive middie into rushing back on defense. Then with an extra slide, one of the Cavaliers’ top offensive weapons might draw the offensive middie and beat him with ease.“We like that scenario,” Tiffany said. “… (But) they were taking the ball away from some of our best midfielders.”Normally, that works with the help of two-way midfielder Ryan Conrad. He scored two goals last year against Syracuse and opened the scoring for UVA on a transition goal off a faceoff win. Late in the first half, however, as he crossed into the attacking third, he dropped to the ground. After play stopped, he tried dragging himself over to his stick that lay a few feet to his side. He left the game and never returned.The loss of Conrad, especially in transition, put a less offensive-minded midfielder on Syracuse’s player that was forced to cross into the defensive third. And of that 5-on-5 mentality, four of the five Virginia players were forced to dodge on longpoles.Instead of always being under constant attack because of minimal possession time, Syracuse was able to be the aggressor. The offense was able to work the ball around and give the defense time to recuperate. And once Virginia had the ball, SU pressured outside the box and while UVA was subbing, which didn’t allow the team to “get into our sets,” Aitken said.Virginia’s offense usually succeeds in transition after winning faceoffs and scoring immediately afterward. It couldn’t do that against Syracuse.Syracuse gained extra possession time from sophomore Danny Varello’s success at the faceoff X, something that Syracuse had lacked in its two games prior.“What Varello and his wings were able to do and get those extra possessions really kept us down for those three quarters,” Tiffany said.Over the last two games, Varello had won just eight of 27 faceoffs, putting an extra workload on the defense. On Sunday, he drew another tall task: beating the seventh-ranked faceoff specialist in the country, Justin Schwenk.Varello won that battle, finishing 16-for-26.The majority of the faceoffs weren’t clean either — Varello had just three ground balls. The wings often included a combination of longpoles Austin Fusco, Brett Kennedy and Jared Fernandez. Those three combined for 13 ground balls.“We were able to start winning faceoffs, that changed things,” Desko said. “Less transition off the faceoff (for UVA) … The tide started to swing when we started to win faceoffs.”The defense began to crack, however, as the fourth quarter progressed. Two separate times, Virginia scored, won the ensuing faceoff and scored again within a minute. The offense that averaged 15.5 goals per game and had never scored under 13 goals began gaining momentum.Mike D’Amario scored three straight goals in less than four minutes for Virginia after being he was held scoreless in the previous 50 minutes. That came, Desko said, from the defense not guarding him. He was constantly left open “in the crease.” Errors also ensued. One time, after a faceoff win, Fusco tried passing the ball back to Madonna and it sailed out of bounds. UVA scored 14 seconds later.UVA’s 6-1 fourth-quarter run tied the game at 11, as Jared Conners tied the game with just over a minute remaining. Varello jogged back out onto the field to take the game’s most important faceoff. Last week, he won all three in overtime despite his weak performance.As the whistle blew, Varello and Schwenk grinded at the faceoff X. Fernandez quickly came in from the wing and scooped the ground ball. Not a minute-and-a-half later, freshman Tucker Dordevic scored the game-winner.In Virginia’s 1000th game as a program, it had the opportunity for a come-from-behind victory. But on the back of its season-worst 19 turnovers, Syracuse’s defense and faceoff success spoiled that potential celebration. Comments Published on March 4, 2018 at 7:39 pm Contact Charlie: csdistur@syr.edu | @charliedisturcolast_img