Orange Watch: Impressive tale of Syracuse football linebackers

Syracuse-Rutgers Jones
Sep 11, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange linebacker Mikel Jones speaks to reporters following SU's 17-7 loss at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brad Bierman/The Juice Online.

Item: The football news wasn’t all bad for Syracuse after Saturday’s maddening 17-7 loss to Rutgers, the return of home games played in front of a loud crowd inside the Dome. One of the stalwarts of a great SU defensive effort in the defeat, along with a former Orange standout now excelling in the NFL made their marks on the field.

The Rutgers game was there for the taking, along with the 2-0 record that would have accompanied it. But too many penalties, turnovers, not enough offensive juice, special teams mistakes, and some questionable play calls by the coaching staff contributed to a frustrating finish.

None-the-less, the defensive performance stood out and provides some optimism moving forward that with the ACC up in the air after Clemson, and if the aforementioned items get corrected, granted a big “if,” not all will be lost the remainder of the 2021 season.

Case in point on Monday when the ACC released its weekly Football Players of the Week list:

LINEBACKER – Mikel Jones, Syracuse, Soph., Miami, Fla.

  • Registered a team-high 11 tackles and a career-best 2.5 tackles for loss in Saturday’s game versus Rutgers
  • Helped lead the Orange defense to 13.0 tackles for loss in the contest, the fourth-highest single game total to date nationally this season, and the most versus a Power 5 opponent
  • Syracuse held Rutgers to 195 yards of total offense, 57 rushing yards and 3-of-15 on third down
  • Jones currently ranks ninth nationally with 11 tackles per game.

“It (the overall effort) felt good, it gave us confirmation that we’re a great defense,” Jones said when asked about that unit’s performance after a disheartening defeat. “The D-backs, the other (linebackers), the D-line, I saw a big effort from all the guys.”

The 195 yards of total offense was the first time a Syracuse defense held a Power 5 team under 200 yards since a 30-7 win over Wake Forest (170 yards) in 2014.

While Syracuse fans can enjoy watching Jones for potentially three more years before his likely step up to the NFL, former SU defensive end Chandler Jones (2009-2011), who’s made the switch to a pass rushing outside linebacker during his six seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, returned with a bang Sunday from an abbreviated 2020 season cut short after five games for surgery to repair a torn bicep.

» Related: Syracuse struggles on offense in loss to Rutgers

In the Cardinals 38-13 road thumping of Tennessee, Jones emphatically built on his future Hall of Fame resume by tying the team record of five sacks in a game, forcing two fumbles, and had six total tackles.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Jones is just the eighth player since the NFL officially began tracking sacks statistically in 1982 to exceed the century mark (102) in the first 125 games of his career.

Jones did not speak with the media afterwards, but his head coach Kliff Kingsbury did.

“He was unblockable most of training camp to the point where it’s like, ‘Hey, we can only pass when he’s out of game’ type of deal,” Kingsbury proclaimed in admiration. “He was awesome. So, I didn’t know if he’d have five (sacks), but I knew he would impact the game. There was no doubt.”

Save for the Monday Night game to be played, it’s likely when the NFL announces its weekly awards Tuesday, the top defensive player honors for week one will go to Chandler Jones.

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About Brad Bierman 762 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.