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Syracuse focused on tackling during bye after problems against Villanova

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The punch is forgotten. The missed tackles, not so much for Syracuse coach Scott Shafer.

With a bye week to get an ugly, one-point, double-overtime victory over Villanova and quarterback Terrel Hunt's ejection-causing jab safely in the rearview mirror, Shafer has honed in on an irritating issue that surfaced in the season-opener against the Wildcats.

"I just want us to do a better job tackling in space, gang-tackling on defense, just being focused and locked in to one play at a time," Shafer said Tuesday as he prepared for a road game against Central Michigan (2-0) of the Mid-American Conference. "Those are the things we focused most on."

Syracuse nearly lost to FCS power Villanova in regulation after Hunt threw a punch at a defender and was kicked out of the game late in the first half. A botched 25-yard field goal by Villanova in the final seconds of regulation left the game tied and gave the Orange another chance, and when the Wildcats went for a two-point conversion in the second overtime and failed, Syracuse had a 27-26 victory.

Shafer said he was pleased with the team's response in the off week.

"They've done a nice job. The proof in the pudding will be Saturday," Shafer said. "They've been working hard at it. They understand the things we're asking (of them). They have the same expectations."

PHOTO: Central Michigan's Thomas Rawls eludes the grasp of Purdue's Sean Robinson  during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept.  6, 2014, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. Purdue lost 38-17. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, Michael Heinz)
Central Michigan's Thomas Rawls eludes the grasp of Purdue's Sean Robinson during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. Purdue lost 38-17. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, Michael Heinz)

In their only previous meeting, Syracuse beat Central Michigan 47-7 in 1999. Those Chippewas finished 4-7. Current coach Dan Enos has these Chippewas humming after starting the season with a comeback 20-16 victory over Tennessee-Chattanooga after trailing 16-0.

Central Michigan responded by beating Purdue 37-18 on the road last week for its first 2-0 start since 2002. The Chippewas won without star receiver Titus Davis (sprained left knee) and lost punter, placekicker and kickoff specialist Ron Coluzzi in the opening minutes with a likely concussion.

Cooper Rush threw for two touchdowns, hard-running Thomas Rawls ran for two more, and Brandon Greer scored on a 57-yard interception return to key the victory, just the team's sixth against current Big Ten members.

The Central Michigan defense leads the nation with six interceptions and has seven total takeaways, while Rawls is averaging 138 yards rushing and has scored three times.

"They play a very physical brand of football," said Shafer, who spent 10 years as an assistant in the MAC, with his teams posting a 7-2 record against Central Michigan. "Their defense runs around and plays a good, sound defense. They're good tacklers in space. They're a good, tough, physical team."

Shafer also announced that quarterback prospect Alin Edouard will enroll in January.

"We're excited that's what he chose to do. It'll give him a chance to be a freshman and still have four years of eligibility," Shafer said. "He can practice in spring ball, summer ball and then get started. It'll create a little natural separation between him and the other freshmen on the team."

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PHOTO: Central Michigan coach Dan Enos questions an officials call  during an NCAA college football game against Purdue Saturday, Sept.  6, 2014, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette.  Central Michigan won 38-17. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, Michael Heinz)
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